Saturday, June 04, 2011

Gates Hands China Major Victory, Ignores TRA

The Taipei Times headlined the comments of Sec of Defense Robert Gates as saying that "Chinese sensitivities" will be taken into account when the US considers the F-16 sale. The comments look innocuous but his idea that the US must "thread the needle" -- take Chinese sensitivities into account when determining Taiwan's defense needs -- indicates that the Taipei Times has the story correct:
Gates is expected to discuss the potential sale in talks with Chinese Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie (梁光烈) at the Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore this weekend.

During a meeting with US reporters on the way to Singapore, Gates was asked if — in view of pressure building in Congress to let Taipei have the planes — the benefits to Taiwan’s security would outweigh the costs that would be incurred to the relationship with China.

He replied: “We do have obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] and we have this discussion in virtually every meeting that we have with the Chinese.”

“I would say that I think under both the [former US president George W.] Bush and Obama administrations, we have tried to thread the needle pretty carefully in terms of Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, but at the same time being aware of China’s sensitivities,” Gates said. “I think both administrations have done this very thoughtfully and very carefully. By the same token, just as the Chinese are very open with us about their concerns, we are also open with them about our obligations.”
The Taipei Times article goes on to Richard Fisher, a strongly conservative US and China military and defense analyst, who points out that (1) Gates has essentially handed China influence over American diplomatic and military strategy; and (2) our allies in Asia have to be wondering what other aspect of US policy China is acquiring ownership of. If the US is really 'threading the needle' between Taiwan's needs and China's calculated policy of expressing anger, then China has just won a major victory over the US.

In addition to Fisher's points, it should also be noted that nowhere in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) does it say that outsiders should be consulted in weapons sales; in fact the language of the TRA specifically excludes that (from
Sec 3302(b) Determination of Taiwan's defense needs
The President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, in accordance with procedures established by law. Such determination of Taiwan's defense needs shall include review by United States military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress
Note that word there "solely". It rules out input by outsiders (including Taiwan) into the weapons sales process.

Let's hope that there is a "clarification" with significant backpedaling by Gates. It's absolutely disgusting that a major US official is paying attention to the totally calculated and wholly fake "sensitivities" of Beijing on the Taiwan issue.
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! Delenda est, baby.


David on Formosa said...

It seems like they are paving the way for the Anschluss.

Nathan W. Novak (李漢聲) said...

Triumphalist to defeatist in two decades. Don King said it best: "Only in America."

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm surprised that this even makes the news. It's pretty obvious that China's position needs to come into consideration - the last thing anyone wants is an arms race or escalation of tensions in East Asia. Even using your "solely" example, it's not ignoring or going against the TRA. Taiwan couldn't compete in an arms race with China, so if weapons sales under the TRA made that more likely it obviously wouldn't be in Taiwan's interest.

The TRA does not exist in a bubble.

Nathan W. Novak (李漢聲) said...

By the way, I'd argue that although Gates "uttered" such comments, he is quite obviously parroting things from on high. Given Gates' (albeit shady) history, he truly agrees with such plans, hence his unwillingness to comment on the issue personally (probably a below-the-belt at the Obama appeasers--I mean, administration).

Dixteel said...

Hmm...given that Ma gave in a lot to China, we cannot expect the US to stand firm. On the other hand though, I am starting to think that if perhaps it is really time Taiwan consider major step in developing domestic defense industry if it wants to keep its independence. Because the US government simply is not reliable in supplying necessary arms, even with the TRA. However, I am not sure how viable this is, but certainly for the long term, this needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

I think that your statements are a bit naive. Just because it says "solely" in the words of the TRA doesn't mean the US is going to ignore the risk of increased Chinese belligerence.

Nor would we expect anything terribly controversial to come from Gates now that he is about to step down.

Raj said...

It's absolutely disgusting that a major US official is paying attention to the totally calculated and wholly fake "sensitivities" of Beijing on the Taiwan issue.

I'm not sure that it's Gates personally, more likely the administration/State department. Gates probably just let slip what we all knew was the situation, that a decision to sell the arms is being weighed up against relations with China.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic: If you haven't already found this article, I think you'll find it interesting -


Anonymous said...

This is head in the sand political analysis, IMHO. The US owes China big time. No wonder they play so nice.

FOARP said...

Since this is presumably unprecedented (otherwise it wouldn't be worth of comment) I'll wait until we see the actual go/no-go decision before I start laying into anyone.

STOP Ma said...


This is off-topic, but you may not be aware that the Canadian visa application office (at the Canadian Consulate) has been shut down. They say it's because temporary visas are no longer required for Taiwanese coming to Canada. However, the following application processes are now being handled in

...wait for it...

Hong Kong.

* temporary residence visas
* work permits
* study permits, and
* permanent resident travel documents.

This significant closure of a Canadian government office in Taipei came with virtually no notice.

We are trying to get a student visa permit for our nephew and we were completely floored by this. Our contacts here have said that Taiwanese applicants for the above were always treated better than Chinese applicants. Now, it is unknown if the Taiwanese are simply going to be grouped with Chinese citizens in the application reviews. In any case, the fact that we have to apply to Hong Kong to get a Canadian student visa for a Taiwanese citizen makes me shudder.

Here is the notice at the Canadian Trade Office website...

Anonymous said...

I can't get worked up by this. What the US and China say and what they do are obscured in the diplomatic dance that seems to have always existed between these countries. Trying to make sense of all this double-talk and diplo-babble is like listening to the Mock Turtle and Gryphon talk about dancing the lobster quadrille:

Why,” said the Gryphon, “you first form into a line along the sea-shore—”

“Two lines!” cried the Mock Turtle. “Seals, turtles, salmon, and so on: then, when you’ve cleared all the jelly-fish out of the way—”

“That generally takes some time,” interrupted the Gryphon.

“—you advance twice—”

“Each with a lobster as a partner!” cried the Gryphon.

“Of course,” the Mock Turtle said: “advance twice, set to partners—”

“—change lobsters, and retire in same order,” continued the Gryphon.

“Then, you know,” the Mock Turtle went on, “you throw the—”

“The lobsters!” shouted the Gryphon, with a bound into the air.

“—as far out to sea as you can—”

“Swim after them!” screamed the Gryphon.

“Turn a somersault in the sea!” cried the Mock Turtle, capering wildly about.

“Change lobsters again!” yelled the Gryphon at the top of its voice.

“Back to land again, and—that’s all the first figure,” said the Mock Turtle, suddenly dropping his voice; and the two creatures, who had been jumping about like mad things all this time, sat down again very sadly and quietly and looked at Alice.

"Would you like to see a little of it?” said the Mock Turtle.

“Very much indeed,” said Alice.

justrecently said...

I agree with the latest comment, of 8:03 PM.
Taiwan policies are mostly bipartisan, and those who accuse the Obama administration of "appeasement" has to repair the disasters left behind by certain "defense-oriented" bruisers.

The defining question is if Taiwan remains a critical point of strategic American interest. If that remains the case, the US may not even the Taiwanese government if it wants American help in a military conflict, but simply intervene.

But America can only remain such a player if it becomes sound at home again. To dampen an arms race is not the worst idea in this context.

Michael Turton said...

I think that your statements are a bit naive. Just because it says "solely" in the words of the TRA doesn't mean the US is going to ignore the risk of increased Chinese belligerence.

Of course. But it is one thing to think about China, and quite another to publicly describe a formal policy as 'threading the needle' between calculated truculence and desperate need.

Not that Gates' description is good anyway.

Nathan W. Novak (李漢聲) said...

I'm wondering, Mike, why you don't take a single minute to criticize Obama and his administration, which is where these policies come from? Gates can quack all he wants, but he's not the one making the decisions. If he'd have uttered these things and they were against administration policy, he'd be pushed out of office even earlier. As it is, it is no harm for an outgoing Defense Secretary to state administration policy (especially a controversial one such as this) because any controversy can be blamed on the outgoing Secretary and the content of his message can be denied by the administration. Why is there so much criticism of Gates here? Sure, he's a holdover from a (relatively pro-Taiwan) Republican administration, but to me it seems there are some people--Dr. Keating and yourself, for example--who simply don't have the guts to blame a Democratic administration. Look, I'm no Republican, nor will I ever be, but let's be realistic: Gates has relatively little pull on Taiwan policy, and he was unwilling to state his own personal opinion. Wait till he's out, and then ask him. I'm quite sure he'll put in his five cents--forget two. And I'm well aware of Gates' background, which makes his comments on China and Taiwan quite dissonant cognitively. Two high-up military men in the United States--both soon to step down--have made these comments at the same time. Does that mean they think these things simultaneously or that they have been told to say these things? Occam's razor brings me to think it is the latter, and given Obama's foot dragging since the Chinese blew so much hot air in 2010 leads me to believe he's simply spineless. That, and with Henry Kissinger giving him advice--Kissinger probably has more foreign policy pull than Gates, and Kissinger is very pro-PRC--explains quite a bit to me. This may be too inconvenient for Democrats to admit, but it is reality, I'm afraid. Blaming Gates is like blaming the hammer for missing the nail.

Michael Turton said...

I'm wondering, Mike, why you don't take a single minute to criticize Obama and his administration, which is where these policies come from?

Because these policies don't come from "the Administration" but from the foreign policy apparatus that has managed to gain control of foreign policy in the US.

but to me it seems there are some people--Dr. Keating and yourself, for example--who simply don't have the guts to blame a Democratic administration.

Obama has followed Bush's policies fairly faithfully, and evidently you've missed the numerous rips on this blog of Obama's failures on climate policy and other issues, as well my observations from time to time that the banks own the Obama Administration.

Also, accusing me of lacking guts is ridiculous.


D said...

I say Gates's comment is just more smoke-and-mirrors. Just like that "should we rethink our commitment to Taiwan?" idea that just happened to come up in the media when the Chinese military was visiting the US. Keep dancing around the ring until the other fighter gets tired.

Anonymous said...

Blame the Obama Admin? For what? For 8 years prior to his term, there was no US Asian foreign policy. Bush could have cared less about Asia, in spite of Cheney's urging not to ignore this.

And none of us are a fly on the Oval Office wall these days. None of us know what's really being reported and planned. We do know Obama is no Bush - he DOES listen to advisors, he does read the papers, he does know where countries are located on a map.

Of course some of us want Obama to be openly aggressive and in-your-face competitive with China, but as someone who grew up partly in Asia, I think Obama may be more circumspect. As others have commented, there's much more at stake here than just Taiwan.

With all the pugnacious pundits, armchair Asia experts, and libertarian loudmouths flapping around the media, I would do as I believe Obama is doing - weighing in with judiciousness and a cool head as the order of the day.