The East Asia Forum, which often has interesting articles, hosted a piece this week by Carlyle Thayer that was supportive of the F-16 decision. There aren't any particularly good or interesting insights, but rather, it shows once again how Beijing-centric thinking has captured the minds of so many analysts. Consider:
The announcement of the arms sale could not come at a more delicate time. President Obama faces re-election in November. Taiwan will hold presidential elections in January. And China will embark...Be serious. It's ALWAYS a delicate time in Sino-American relations. Something is always happening, and if nothing were happening, Thayer would sententiously scribe: "Sino-American relations are going really well and we shouldn't disturb them with new arms sales." There's simply no situation in which arms sales aren't going to be perturbing, because Beijing wants to make them that way. Repeat: it's not the situation, it's the policy of Beijing.
Selling F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan would almost certainly rupture currently improving Sino–American relations and inflict collateral damage on improved cross-straits relations championed by Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou.More on Ma in a moment. More interesting is the upside-down understanding of moderates vs hardliners. The F-16 denial is a huge victory, not for "moderates" who share identical goals with hardliners, but the hardliners who have seen their policy of deliberate displays of anger, threats and continuous military buildup rewarded by a US retreat. It's debatable whether 66 F-16s would really be all that helpful, but there's no question of the symbolism that failure to sell F-16s shows.
It is quite clear that F-16 C/D sales would likely unleash domestic and nationalist forces in both China and the United States. Moderates in both countries would come under pressure to adopt a more confrontational stance. It is hard to see how undermining current positive security trends would contribute to improving the regional security environment in general and Taiwan’s security in particular.
In other words: what exactly did the US get for its kow-tow? Beijing promised not to be angry and take its toys and go home. Until next time. Note to policymakers: you don't make the monster smaller by feeding it.
Thayer writes further down:
A harsher response by China risks disrupting a number of diplomatic engagements scheduled later in the year such as the APEC Summit in Honolulu and the East Asia Summit in Bali. The effects of deteriorating Sino-American relations would be quickly felt across the Asia Pacific and almost certainly exacerbate tensions in the South China Sea. Depending on how badly this played out, Asia could enter a new Cold War.No really -- the writer feels that temporary annual meetings are more important than long-term impairment of the security of an ally. No really -- meetings are more important than military hardware. I kid you not.
Moreover, if F-16s really aren't necessary, there is no need to pose the argument in terms of how Beijing is going to react. You could just say simply: F-16s aren't the solution and remain silent on how Beijing will respond. In other words, when you write that we shouldn't sell F-16s because Beijing will "become angry", you're implicitly affirming that selling F-16s is actually a good idea from the standpoint of Taiwan's defense.
Tensions are already in a long-term rise in the South China Sea -- they aren't going to get better. Perhaps the Cold War hasn't arrived yet, but what we're in right now is a pretty good imitation.
Re Ma Ying-jeou: The Hill reported a fascinating nugget: the Ma Administration is still lobbying for the F-16s. The article provides a list of firms and individuals lobbying for Taiwan on the Hill. Note this paragraph:
“Considering Taiwan would only use these planes for defensive purposes, it was a short-sighted blunder on the administration’s part not to sell Taiwan the new planes,” Sean King, vice president of Park Strategies, told The Hill. “We can’t let ourselves be bullied by Beijing. After all, the United States is mainland China’s No. 1 nation-state export market. Beijing needs us more than we sometimes realize.”Park Strategies is very close to the Administration; when its office opened in Taipei a couple of years ago,
Ending on an upbeat note: the consistently good Philip Bowring identifies the fundamental contradiction at the heart of US Taiwan policy; namely, its interconnection with other areas of Chinese territorial expansion. I've made the same point many times on this blog. Bowring's analysis is spot on:
And Washington's kowtow to Beijing ignores the broader strategic picture in the region where the interests of the non-Chinese players in East Asia figure. To start with, South Korea and Russia will not be happy with greater Chinese dominance in the region. They may not say it out loud for fear of offending China but they have every interest in the status quo where Taiwan is independent and continues to defend itself.Taiwan supporters should emphasize the interconnectedness of Taiwan with Beijing's other territorial demands when they point out how important Taiwan is to the US. Taiwan is important not only for itself, but for what it means to the other nations around it as well.
Then there are the concerns of those nations in the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia are all opposed to China's claims to the sea and its islands. Vietnam has already opened its port facilities to U.S. naval vessels, while Indonesia and Singapore have strengthened their defense ties. What's more, Manila and Hanoi have become especially outspoken in defense of their territorial claims in the past few months.
A visit to Japan last week by Philippine President Benigno Aquino ended with a communiqué strongly supporting a multilateral approach to the sea issue, compliance with freedom of navigation and a "legally binding code of conduct consistent with established international law." This was a none-too-veiled attack on China's claims and Beijing's insistence on bilateral negotiations to solve disputes in the region. Beijing, not surprisingly, reacted strongly; it warned Manila and Tokyo to be careful of exacerbating tensions.
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