WSJ was channeling me this week in a great editorial on what the US should do about Taiwan arms sales, arguing that US promises to provide Taiwan with the weapons it needs are "unkept" and that the US is letting Beijing's tantrums determine American foreign policy.
The Chinese will no doubt complain loudly about any proposed change to the TRA, just as they do when even modest arms sales to Taiwan are approved. Beijing has suspended military-to-military ties with the U.S. twice in the last three years over such sales. But it is the U.S. that encourages such histrionics by reinforcing the impression that it will eventually allow its abandonment of Taiwan to become a fait accompli.Someone remarked this week (Bonnie Glaser, I think) that it really doesn't matter if the US sells upgrades for Taiwan's existing F-16 or a new batch of 66 F-16 C/D versions, China is going to complain just the same. Since China is always going to complain, the US should just go ahead and do what's necessary.
A better strategy would be to set a long-term objective for returning Taiwan to a viable position of being able to defend itself, so that it could negotiate with the mainland from a position of strength. This would require reaching a bipartisan consensus on a program of future sales that would come into effect as long as China's offensive buildup continues. Future Administrations could then minimize the politicking by hewing to this program.
We suspect that once Beijing was conditioned to understand that its threats to hold the entire bilateral relationship hostage to this one issue were no longer working, the outbursts would subside. Perhaps then more constructive negotiations between China and Taiwan would proceed.
Of course, the flip side of a US push for arms for Taiwan would be the Ma Administration forcefully promoting Taiwan's defense. Oops! For the Ma Administration has been slowly rolling back the defense budget, as the story went this week....
The Ministry of National Defense’s budget this year is NT$297.2 billion (US$9.2 billion), about 2.2 percent of GDP, despite a pledge by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to raise defense spending to 3 percent of GDP and calls from bipartisan -lawmakers to increase funding.Yet another broken promise from Ma.
Some military officials are admitting that a delay in the 2015 deadline for an all-volunteer force is in the works because of financial difficulties.
“There are officials in the US who are questioning Taiwan’s own defense commitment. And an important indicator of that is the defense budget — a method to clearly show the US Taiwan’s determination,” Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), Taiwan’s former representative to the US, told the conference in Taipei organized by the Taiwan Brain Trust think tank. “America’s willingness to strengthen Taiwan security ties is related to our own [commitment].”
At stake in the reduced defense budget, which has gradually been rolled back to 2006 levels as both a percentage of government spending and the total sum since a high of NT$349.5 billion in 2008, are the continued sales of large arms packages from the US to Taiwan.
There was much speculation among pan-Greens that Ma is reducing the island's defenses in order to sell it out, but ofttimes such reductions have other, less nefarious bureaucratic and political origins.
Of course, the flip side of the Ma Administration actually getting serious about defense would be for officials and influential individuals in the US to develop a rational East Asian security policy, one that put the priority here in East Asia where the future is, and not in carrying out interminable, unwinnable wars in central Asia that are slowly breaking the US treasury and military while radicalizing an endless supply of recruits for the nation's enemies. Not to mention making new friends for Beijing while pacifying territories for the expansion of its influence. Brilliant moves...
This self-same week US and Japanese officials called for strong Asia-Pacific defense, as the Taipei Times reported:
Top US and Japanese defense and foreign affairs officials on Tuesday reaffirmed the US-Japan Alliance and called for peaceful resolution of disputes in the Taiwan Strait through dialogue, while admitting that plans to relocate US troops from a military base in Okinawa would miss their deadline.From out here, the Obama Administration policy appears to be to gently shove Taiwan off into Beijing's arms, and then declaring that it will defend Japan -- presumably including the Senkakus, since the two nations have conducted military exercises there -- to the death.
In other words, US foreign policy at present appears to be to refuse to take seriously the defense of 23 million allies in a democracy that is a major trading nation, but to slaughter young men by the thousand over some uninhabited rocks in the desolate Pacific ocean.
This, Best Beloved, is what is known as a strong Asia-Pacific defense policy.
Meanwhile on that other flashpoint, the South China Sea, China once again warned the US to stay out of the South China Sea tussle, making veiled threats....
“Regarding the role of the United States in this, the United States is not a claimant state to the dispute,” the vice foreign minister, Cui Tiankai, told reporters on Wednesday. “So it is better for the United States to leave the dispute to be sorted out between the claimant states.”The NYTimes article pointed out that the US is committed by treaty to defending Philippines (the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty) which includes any attack "on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific". I wonder what the lawyers in the Obama Administration are going to say about the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea when it comes time to make a decision on "island territories under its jurisdiction."
Mr. Cui added, “I believe the individual countries are actually playing with fire, and I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States.”
As I have noted before, Taiwan is intertwined with all of China's territorial expansion: if Taiwan is annexed to China, its South China Sea claims will be annexed to China as well -- as will Taiwan's airbase in the area.
The US needs to rethink its Asia security plan, and it needs to start by supplying Taiwan with a robust assortment of weaponry, impressing on the Ma Administration the need for an upgraded commitment to defense, and upgrading mil-mil contacts with the Taiwan military.
UPDATE: Bill Geertz at the Washington Times' Inside the Ring reports:
A senior Republican senator plans to hold up the nomination of William J. Burns to be the deputy secretary of state because of the Obama administration’s delay in bolstering Taiwan’s defenses, Senate aides told Inside the Ring....."because they believe it will upset US-China military exchanges." You can't be serious.
Sen. John Cornyn will use his authority to block a full Senate vote on the nomination of Mr. Burns, currently undersecretary of state for political affairs, until the administration approves new sales of F-16 jets to Taiwan. Specifically, the senator wants the State Department to inform Taiwan it will accept a formal letter of request from the Taiwan government to buy 66 new F-16s model C/Ds made by Lockheed Martin.
Additionally, the Texas Republican wants the Pentagon to turn over a long-delayed report to Congress that defense officials say highlights the growing air power imbalance between Taiwan’s air force and China’s military across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. The report was due to Congress 16 months ago.
According to defense officials, both the F-16 sale and the air-power report are being blocked by White House National Security Council staff aide Evan Medeiros, who is part of a group of administration officials opposing the F-16 sale because they believe it will upset U.S.-China military exchanges.
REF: Denny Roy on Asia's top security threats.
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