[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Dark Clouds Over Asia
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] The Chinese leadership in Beijing is gambling that President Bush won't become involved in a crisis in Asia between now and November. This has prompted them to ratchet up the pressure on two fronts: threatening Taiwan; and squelching democracy in Hong Kong.

In last week's presidential election in Taiwan, the incumbent, Chen Shui-Bian, won by fewer than 30,000 out of more than 13 million votes cast. Chen has declared that he intends to convert Taiwan from its current ambiguous status to an "independent sovereign country." Pursuing this agenda puts the island on a collision course with Beijing which views Taiwan as a renegade province of the Peoples Republic. In contrast, the other candidate, Lien Chan, favored easing tensions with Beijing.

But here's the bizarre part. The day before the election, Chen suffered a relatively minor injury from a gun shot wound in what police called an assassination attempt. The assailant hasn't been found or identified. Most experts think the shooting shifted enough votes Chen's way to provide him with his narrow victory.

One set of cynics claim that Chen arranged the shooting himself because the polls showed him headed toward defeat. Another set claim that Beijing was responsible, which is counterintuitive given Chen's press for Taiwanese independence. However, the reasoning is that the Chinese leadership prefers Chen in the presidency because he will take actions which will justify Beijing's military conquest of Taiwan-their endgame. Beijing's response to Chen's election and resulting rhetoric has been to increase the pressure on Taiwan. With increasingly bellicose statements, Beijing has made it clear that Taiwanese moves toward independence will be blocked by force. The C55-6 Chinese missiles near Nanping, which I wrote about in my recent novel, Dark Ambition, are armed and ready to attack Taiwan across the narrow strait separating the two. The Chinese view, reflected by its ambassador in this book, is that "Taiwan is a part of China." If Chen prevails in the recount and provokes Beijing, the button on those missiles may be pressed before November.

Meantime, the U.S. is obligated by long standing commitments to defend Taiwan. Chen may find that those agreements aren't bankable. If he provokes a Chinese attack, with our military pinned down in Iraq, U.S. intervention seems unlikely.

This brings us to Hong Kong. The last time I visited the frenetic island, which was before the British turned it over to the Chinese, I was convinced that Beijing wouldn't change much in Hong Kong for the foreseeable future. My analysis was that as China increased their world trade in an era of globalization, they needed Hong Kong's financial institutions too much to risk creating instability on the island. My wife, Barbara, disagreed. And I have to admit she was right.

What I didn't foresee was the emergence of Shanghai as a commercial and financial powerhouse. With it, Hong Kong's importance has diminished. Now in the driver's seat, vis a vis Hong Kong, Beijing has recently launched a shameful attack on the island's pro-democracy movement.

When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, its residents were promised a high degree of autonomy. Now, direct elections for the chief executive and the legislature, anticipated for some time, have been cancelled. Democratic leaders have been condemned as "unpatriotic." Arrests have been made. Large groups of people have taken to the streets in protest. And Washington has remained mute, as it will in the months ahead.

All of this would have been bad enough, but Chen, the Taiwanese President, has decided to throw fuel on the fire. In a speech blatantly hostile to Beijing, he has linked the Taiwanese and Hong Kong situations, contending that the stifling of democracy in Hong Kong underscores the need for Taiwan to assert its independence.

By tying the two together, Chen has raised the stakes for the leadership in Beijing. Tiananmen Square established that when pro democracy forces tossed down the gauntlet to Beijing's leadership, they were met with brutal force. By tying Taiwan's fate to that of Hong Kong, he's not helping either of the two islands. Beijing will have a greater rationale for increasing its pressure on one of them, knowing that its actions will have an intimidating effect on the other.

Chen is behaving like a blackjack player who has decided to double down with a pair of sixes. If he's betting the U.S. will bail him out, he's making a serious miscalculation. This is not the time for one more American military intervention in a distant land.