Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Round up

Lots of stuff going on....

DPP takes by-election in Lukang. A friend writes: "DPP candidate Huang Chen-yen (黃振彥) scored a major victory in Saturday's by-election for the mayorality of Lukang Township in Changhua County, defeating KMT candidate Tsai Ming-chung by a margin of 22,225 votes to 8,889 (as of 5pm) . The 70.5% to 29.5% margin was considerably more decisive than the margin by which Tsai Ing-wen took Lukang on January 14 (25,150 or 50.7 percent to Ma's 22,863)." True enough, but it is a mayoral election in a small town in Changhua.... when we see a trend across several elections, it might be meaningful. But Ma's current unpopularity won't last.

CNA reports that Christopher Marut will replace William Stanton as head of AIT in August.

Huge news.... Josh Rogin at The Cable over at Foreign Policy says the Administration has done an about-face on F-16s for Taiwan.
The White House policy shift was codified in a letter sent to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) Friday as part of a deal to get the Texas senator to release his hold on the confirmation of Mark Lippert, a close confidant of President Barack Obama whose nomination to become the top Pentagon official for Asia has been held up since October over the issue of selling F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan.

"We are mindful of and share your concerns about Taiwan's growing shortfall in fighter aircraft as the F-5s are retired from service and notwithstanding the upgrade of the F-16A/Bs. We recognize that China has 2,300 operational combat aircraft, while our democratic partner Taiwan has only 490. We are committed to assisting Taiwan in addressing the disparity in numbers of aircraft through our work with Taiwan's defense ministry on its development of a comprehensive defense strategy vis-a-vis China," Robert Nabors, director of the White House office of legislative affairs, wrote in a letter today to Cornyn.

"This work will be a high priority for a new Assistant Secretary of Defense in his dialogue on force transformation with his Taiwan counterparts. The Assistant Secretary, in consultation with the inter-agency and the Congress, will play a lead role as the Administration decides on a near-term course of action on how to address Taiwan's fighter gap, including through the sale to Taiwan of an undetermined number of new U.S.-made fighter aircraft."

The White House does not explicitly promise to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets, as Cornyn wants, promising only to give the matter "serious consideration." But it does pledge an "underdetermined number" of new aircraft and the White House promised that Lippert would use the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Review Talks to conduct a full review of Taiwan's long-term defense strategy.
It's a positive and significant step, but let's recall that the Ma Administration and the KMT do not want these fighters. There's a long way to go before we see any new fighters, so basically I'll believe the Administration's noise when I see the verifiable physical results -- new aircraft on Taiwan's runways. Paul Mozur's WSJ piece has more.

I wrote a couple of posts down about how the ROC's bizarre claims to the South China Sea are dragging Taiwan into conflict with its neighbors. Today the Taipei Times published a commentary from an academic arguing that the Philippines claims to the Scarborough Shoal are bogus and the ROC actually owns the shoal and the Spratlys. It's a good insight into the kind of mind that lives in this alternative universe.

Manila's claims are laid out in the Manila Times. The author of the Taipei Times piece is correct, the Mapa General, Islas Filipinas Observatorio de Manila does not appear to color the shoal the same as the Philippines. Ironically, his rhetorical question "If all land shown on the map belonged to the Philippines, why would the southern part of Taiwan be shown at the top and part of Borneo at the bottom? Does this mean these places belong to the Philippines too?" actually reveals his ignorance: to this day Manila claims the northeast side of Borneo island. Nor does the author of the Taipei Times piece seem aware that Manila has not given up its claims under UNCLOS. The commentary in the Manila paper states that clearly, observing that Philippines has been trying to resolve the issue under UNCLOS in international court. Today's paper says the Dept of Foreign Affairs is trying to get the Court to hear that without Chinese consent, as the standoff between China and Manila has now reached its 17th day. No doubt if the Court rules in Manila's favor, as seems likely under UNCLOS, China will simply ignore the Court.

Note also that the Philippines has pretty much the same clause in its Constitution saying that  "all other areas which belong to the Philippines on the basis of historical rights or legal claims" belong to Manila. In other words Manila can assert a historical basis for its claims -- just like the Chinese do -- under the Philippine Constitution. *sigh*

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