Tuesday, August 31, 2010

US expresses concerns about ROC military officers visiting China

Several years ago Taiwan political maven Lawrence Eyton wrote:
It also follows the release of an alarming statistic by the Ministry of National Defense according to which more than 3,000 former Taiwan military officers are now either doing business or working in "consultancies" in mainland China.
That was then. The problem has not gone away...

Several news outlets were reporting yesterday that the issue, which US observers had pressed privately with the Taiwan government, has now become public. Focus Taiwan says, translating a China Times piece:
Jason Yuan, Taiwan's representative in Washington, D.C., has reportedly told relevant government authorities about the U.S. concern over the high frequency and high level of interaction between retired Taiwanese generals and Chinese military authorities in recent years.

The United States has maintained close military cooperation with Taiwan for decades. It has typically briefed Taiwan on the itinerary and main purposes before its senior military officers depart for visits to China. The U.S. government has reportedly asked Taiwan to follow suit by giving briefings on retired generals' visits to and interaction with China.

Sources familiar with the affair said former National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi had reminded the Ministry of National Defense on many occasions of the U.S. concern. As Taiwan's law does not impose any restrictions on such visits, the ministry can only collect information about retired generals' China travel plans and report it to superior authorities.

When Hsu Li-nung, a former chief of the General Political Warfare Department under the ministry, led a group of retired senior generals to Beijing for a high-profile visit in April, he said one of the event's primary purposes was to promote the establishment of a military confidence-building mechanism.

His remarks drew much concern from U.S. authorities. Even scholars at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies had repeatedly inquired during their Taipei visits about the possibility of Taiwan and China forging a military mechanism without U.S. participation.
I especially like the comment "Even scholars at the...CSIS had repeatedly inquired" as if they should be expected to refrain from doing so. CSIS has been strongly supportive of the ECFA process; they tend to support global corporate interests. The Taipei Times added:
Washington was also concerned about the possibility of military secrets being leaked, the report said.

“It is understandable for the United States to voice concerns, given the rapidly improving ties between Taipei and Beijing,” Chen Wen-yi (陳文義), deputy chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ North American Affairs Department, told AFP.

In April, more than 20 retired generals, led by retired generals Hsu Li-nong (許歷農) and Cheng Ting-chung (陳廷寵), visited retired Chinese generals and government officials, one of many such visits in the past two years.

Hsu said publicly that the visit was to promote a military ­confidence-building mechanism.

In May, 27 retired generals went to China to play golf with Chinese counterparts, while more than 20 retired generals are currently on a visit to Nanjing.

The Ministry of National Defense yesterday would not comment on Washington’s concerns, adding that cross-strait negotiations were currently focused on economics, with no political or military talks in the pipeline.

The ministry said it had never authorized retired military personnel to promote confidence-­building mechanisms with Chinese officials, adding that while it generally prohibited retired generals from going to China, in the past two years some had managed to circumvent the restrictions.
The emergence of this problem into the open suggests that the US has become quite frustrated with all the behind-the-scenes contact which it has no access to and which Taipei will not stop. What could be going on? Note that in the Taipei Times piece General Hsu is reported to have described the visit as a "confidence building mechanism" implying that there are informal arrangements being made. The existence of these relationships also shows how the KMT's dealings with China are pushed along by "gray" relationships that go farther than the government supposedly intends.

The two reports contradict on a vital matter: the China Times says no law prohibits such visits, but the Taipei Times said retired generals are generally not permitted to visit China, but some had managed to circumvent the law. Since the visit was public, why were the men not punished?

It is easy to see why certain sectors of the US defense community might be concerned about US technological secrets if ROC military officials have such intimate relations with their Chinese counterparts.

UPDATE: Don't miss Taiwan Link's excellent coverage of this topic, with detailed information and great insight, as always. Additionally, his taste in bloggers is unsurpassed.
____________
Daily Links:
_______________________
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looking at it with suspicion is one way to look at it. A much better way is that closer military contacts between both sides make conflict even less likely which most people would see as a positive step.

Dixteel said...

Although I can sympathize with those old generals who visited their home town for memory sake, I think they have gone beyond that point. I feel they have used their past positions and knowledge to gain special interests with Chinese government. In short, they, along with KMT high officials, are indeed selling out their country (or their past employer and if they have trouble thinking Taiwan as a country). This I feel is really unforgivable because Taiwan treated these retired generals well and now they tried to gain more benefits in China.

These behaviors will damage Taiwan in two front obviously. China will acquire sensitive info while the US will guard against Taiwan therefore Taiwan will have extreme difficulties in acquiring technologies in the future.

I feel unfortunately the only solution to this problem is a total purge in the military, otherwise Taiwan could be in trouble.

Nevets said...

Is it possible that President Ma and his KMT Elders are forcing a backdoor reunification by creating a military 'team' that would cause the US to say they could not be involved with defending Taiwan any longer?

Michael Turton said...

A much better way is that closer military contacts between both sides make conflict even less likely which most people would see as a positive step.

That would be true, if the Chinese on both sides didn't want to annex Taiwan to China. Hence a negative step. To understand it as a positive step is to misunderstand the context.

Nevets, that's an interesting suggestion.

Michael

Jade said...

Aren't you not surprised to see that the US has been "reluctant" in the arms sale to Taiwan? Until Taiwan citizens can consistently elect a Taiwan-centric president who can stand up to China and defend Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy, it is impractical to expect The US to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan. The daunting task for the DPP, if it gets the chance to run the government again, is to have a national military as opposed to KMT's military and convince the generals that it is in the best interest of all the people in Taiwan to live in an independent and democratic country that we all hope Taiwan will become.

Michael Turton said...

Good point, Jade. But then you know what will happen. The global financial firms that backed Ma will complain that Taiwan is being provocative.

Anonymous said...

That would be true, if the Chinese on both sides didn't want to annex Taiwan to China. Hence a negative step. To understand it as a positive step is to misunderstand the context.

Not at all. For starters, only about 10-15% of people in Taiwan want to (re)unify and that number is falling every year. It's just not going to happen by choice from the Taiwan side. Therefore, the only way annexation/unification would be possible is through conflict. Closer military contacts make that scenario much less likely.

Anonymous said...

Those old generals are just belatedly doin what the USA has been practicing for such a long, long time.

Uncle Sam being cozy with Uncle Mao at the expense of Uncle Chiang must have given those generals a clue:)

Now how can these 'Lao Ohng's' damage Taiwan after what Washington have already done cutting diplomatic recognition with Taiwan in favor of Beijing?

Who knows Jimmy Carter might join them there soon!

Richa

Taiwan Matters to America said...

Don't forget that very influential retired U.S. officers, led by former Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Bill Owens, had their own thing going with counterparts in China, with the Sanya Initiative being the most well-known. One should note that Owens is now first and foremost a businessman and investor, with particularly close links to Huawei.

The biggest issue is asymmetry of intent between the U.S./Taiwan retired officers and counterparts in China. U.S. and Taiwan are both open societies, albeit imperfect, and with limits on government control. China is different, and can mobilize its "retired" officers to further its goal of annexing Taiwan.

Having said that, senior officials in the Obama administration gave written endorsement to Owens and his Sanya Initiative. There is little evidence that the Ma administration gave any signal or tacit support to these different retiree groups from Taiwan, who seem to be falling over these themselves to befriend counterparts in China. These retired officers, mostly Army and apparently all born in China, seem to be linked with the New Party, as well as with the KMT's Huang Fu Hsing faction.

The Huangpu Alumni Association appears to be the primary driver. It shouldn't be a surprise that the Huangpu Association headquarters in Beijing is co-located with the so-called "China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification." They're quite active in the U.S. as of late as well, including in the San Francisco and Washington DC areas.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks "Taiwan Matters to America" I had forgotten about Sanya. Also thanks for the details.

Michael Turton said...

It's just not going to happen by choice from the Taiwan side. Therefore, the only way annexation/unification would be possible is through conflict. Closer military contacts make that scenario much less likely.

It's already happening by choice from the Taiwan side. What do you think the Ma Administration is all about? Keeping China at arms length?

We'll just have to disagree on whether closer links between right-wing military officers on two sides that want to annex Taiwan and hate its democracy is a good thing.

Richard said...

As we've seen, what the Taiwanese public thinks does not translate into what the government thinks/does. So despite having 10-15% or whatever low percent of the Taiwanese population favoring unification, if the government does not govern in a democratic way... then it doesn't really matter what the polls or percentages are. Is not a prime example of this, the ECFA?

Stefano said...

Michael, I think it is inaccurate to state that the only way (re)unification or annexation could occur is through "conflict". Military force is evidently something the PRC has threatened, but is not more likely that a combination of economic pressure (potentially expedited via an embargo or blockade), political concessions to key groups (Mainlander and Hakka elites, the military etc.), international unwillingness to intervene in any but the most extreme of invasion scenarios and the progressively weaker bargaining position in which Taiwan will find itself will all contribute to forcing a settlement with the PRC, rather than inviting outright invasion.

One way, as a couple of posters have noted, China could achieve its objectives in a non-violent scenario is winning enough leverage with the still Mainlander dominated military to make organised resistance difficult or impossible.

My only question is whether, should such a scenario take place, pro-independence forces in Taiwan would have the organisational wherewithal to organise an effective insurrectionary campaign. My guess under current circumstances and in light of Taiwan's general level of affluence is "no", but only time shall tell.

Michael Turton said...

Michael, I think it is inaccurate to state that the only way (re)unification or annexation could occur is through "conflict".

That's what I think! It was the other poster who claimed conflict was the only possibility. But as Richard noted, ECFA is a dry run for how unification agreements could be handled.

Anonymous said...

if the government does not govern in a democratic way... then it doesn't really matter what the polls or percentages are. Is not a prime example of this, the ECFA?

Part of the KMT 2008 election platform was increased economic ties with China. ECFA is the result of that. I'm not sure how you can say it's not democratic when they won in 2008 in a landslide. We've yet to feel the effects of ECFA so no one can say whether it was the right thing to do or not.

Anonymous said...

This is what the traitorous ex-military and new party deserve.

Anonymous said...

Part of the KMT 2008 election platform was increased economic ties with China. ECFA is the result of that.

I'd like to see how the KMT had fared in the elections if they had run on the platform of signing ECFA with China. "Closer economic ties" is a pretty vague term. Anyway, the next elections will be a reflection of what people think of ECFA amongst other issues...