Friday, August 05, 2011

F-16s and US Taiwan-China Policy

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Vietnamese brides and foreign workers are so common that in convenience stores in small towns across Taiwan can now be found Vietnamese-language magazines. These were in the Hi-Life in the small town where we live.

WSJ puts out a commentary arguing that the US should sell F-16s to Taiwan because (1) President Ma wants them to negotiate from a position of strength; (2) they would silence charges that he is weak on Taiwan's defense and help his re-election; (3) they'd be good for the US economy and (4) Obama could use them to boost his re-election. To wit:
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly asked to buy the F-16s because he understands that Taipei must negotiate with mainland China from a position of strength. Mr. Ma is hardly trying to provoke a fight with China. His administration has done more than any recent government in Taipei to improve ties with the mainland. Cross-strait flights have expanded from 108 a week in November 2008 to a new cap of 558 a week this July. Cross-strait trade is booming.

Beijing clearly wants Mr. Ma to win re-election in January 2012 rather than see the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party regain power. But the U.S. is doing nothing to help Mr. Ma against the charge that he is undermining Taiwan's ability to defend itself. Taiwanese citizens are not prepared to relinquish their de facto independence, at least not before China embraces democracy. No Taiwanese president can compromise on Taiwan's sovereignty, a fact that Beijing does not seem to appreciate.

If the Obama Administration is not impressed by these arguments, perhaps it will heed the political cost of losing a valuable export contract. The U.S.-Taiwan Business Council commissioned a study by the Perryman Group that found the Taiwanese order would create more than 87,000 person-years of U.S. employment.
Except for (1) which is wrong; Ma doesn't want the F-16s and is just making pretty noises, a game Washington is supporting him in playing, these are all solid reasons to make the sale. Nevertheless, I can't resist pointing out that WSJ has supported almost every policy that has gutted our manufacturing base, moved jobs and skills out of the US, and made finance rather than manufacturing the mainstay of the economy, while cheerleading every one of our incredibly stupid and shortsighted wars. Obama is only as strong as the United States that he is handed -- a nation WSJ's policy solutions have materially weakened over the years. Thanks, WSJ.

Meanwhile the Taipei Times reported on the words of longtime senior US Taiwan specialist Robert Sutter about US Taiwan policy. The entire piece should be read; Sutter does not mince words. Highlights:
“Yes, Congress likes Taiwan and when the president of Taiwan wants something, they support it, but what they are prepared to do about it if there is a big blow up with China, I am not sure,” he said.

However, he said, the F-16C/D sale was not “on the cards” anyway and so the congressional letters to Obama were “not a real test of how strong sentiment over Taiwan really is or isn’t.”

.............

The US Congress, he said, would “posture in a certain way” on Taiwan’s behalf, but if things became dangerous they would pull back. Washington, he said, still had a strong determination to help Taiwan, but there was a reluctance to act.

“This administration is re--engaging with Asia big time, but where is Taiwan? It’s not mentioned. It’s not part of it. It’s not there,” he said. “The administration is full of good people. They like Taiwan [and] if China attacks Taiwan, they will be there.”

However, he said that if Taiwan moved in a direction that was not “keeping the engagement going with China,” US support would be thin.

“This pattern of growing ties between China and Taiwan is fully supported by the United States,” he said.

And he stressed that the pattern inevitably narrowed Taiwan’s freedom of action.

“They are just not going to be able to do a lot of the things they used to do and frankly, a lot of this is because they don’t want to. They don’t want to spend money on defense. They don’t want to lose out on the economic advantages of dealing with China,” he said.

“When we reach a point where Taiwan moves in a direction with China that surprises people, when it moves ahead, there might be some people who will point fingers and ask who lost Taiwan. We are all complicit in this. Unless we are out there strongly protesting what is going on — and I don’t see anybody doing that — we are all participants,” Sutter added.
The window for Taiwan's independent action is closing as Chinese colonialism is now backed by real military force, even as the US decline continues (steepened again with this week's do'h-stupid budget cutting deal). It is also important to note that Sutter's comment that if "Taiwan" chooses to annex itself to China, how can the US object? is at the moment a distant dream. As Sutter knows, only a tiny fringe here wants to be annexed to China. It almost seems sometimes that US policymakers are hinting that Ma should proceed with political talks and pretend he has a public mandate.

Sutter actually put his highly analytical finger on a key point: the US is busily engaging China in the South China Sea and also with Japan in the Senkaku Islands, the former south of Taiwan and the latter north of Taiwan.

Taiwan is involved in both these disputes. In the South China Sea, it has a large airbase and its government, the ROC, claims the whole of the South China Sea, just like China. In the north, the ROC government on Taiwan has claimed the Senkaku Islands since oil was discovered there in the late 1960s. Some Taiwanese also claim that the Senkaku Islands belong to Taiwan.

There's no way to disentangle Taiwan from those two issues, yet US policy at the moment treats Taiwan as though it is isolated from those (and other issues) and can be safely handed over to China without affecting any other US interests, a hopelessly contradictory position.

This doesn't even begin to touch the likely follow-on moves of China once it latches onto Taiwan, such as pressuring Japan over Okinawa. Instead it imagines a static fantasy universe in which Beijing grabs Taiwan and then decides that is enough. On what earth will that occur?

Not to mention our crazed policy of carrying out military operations over half a planet. At present, US policy essentially boils down to trading a losing military operation in Afghanistan for US ally Taiwan. Way to go, team!
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3 comments:

Okami said...

Are there really people who believe Taiwan's current administration wants to buy F-16's? Hopefully someone informs them that pretty much the same legislature blocked the purchase of them during the former president's term.

The most interesting thing for me though was this:
"Obama is only as strong as the United States that he is handed"

I expect to see this narrative played out in the AP, AFP, CNN, MSM and Politico during the election year.

a said...

Well, if we can find a bright side in the fact that F-16s won't be sold to Taiwan, then it might that Ma will look as though he does not have the mandate from Washington that he claims. It's hard to play yourself up as being a Washington confidant when Washington doesn't support you enough to sell you the arms you need.

D said...

Nice to see you crack down on WSJ even though they're on "the right side" of the issue. I loved this line in that editorial:

"The F-16s ... would provide Taiwan with the ability to defend itself long enough for the U.S. to resupply it with arms without getting directly involved in the fighting, much as it did for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War."

Witness Taiwan as a figment of the neo-con imagination.

Fox should hire Okami as an analyst.