Prepared Remarks of
Research Fellow, Project 2049 Institute
FAPA Board Meeting Banquet
"The Future of U.S.-Taiwan Security Relations"
Hilton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, Virginia
December 5, 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good evening to you all. Da-gay He! [How is everybody?] Da-gay jia-ba-bway? [Did you get enough to eat?] Wo-shee Yi Si-an. [My name is 易思安]
Please allow me, first and foremost, to extend my appreciation to FAPA President Mark Kao and Dr. Gerrit van der Wees for the kind invitation. Thank you for the honor to be here as part of
Tonight you are all gathered together in professional and personal friendship with one supreme goal: to keep Taiwan and her people free. Free politically and free from Chinese coercion. Free to exist and work toward the day when she can be recognized as a respected member of the international community. [click on READ MORE below]
This is not an easy task. It is a hugely difficult one. But that makes it worthwhile. Nothing worth having in life is ever easy.
The future of Taiwan's democracy, as you all know very well, is under constant threat. This was something I learned right away on my arrival to Taiwan in 2005. I was in Taipei on a Chinese language scholarship. I'll never forget this one day after class, just a few weeks into my program, when I was walking down the street and I heard the wail of a public alert siren.
You know, at first I thought it was a tornado alert. I grew up in farm country in rural Illinois, and that sound, to my ears, had always meant a tornado was coming. So I immediately stopped and looked up to scan the skies. But I saw only that it was a beautiful clear day. Then I noticed the military and police forces clearing the streets of traffic, and began to realize what was going on. I ducked into the cover of a nearby 7-11. Then I watched a very impressive air raid drill take place before my eyes in the streets of downtown Taipei.
Ever since that drill, when I hear the sound of a public alert siren in Taiwan, I don't worry about
tornados, but rather Chinese missiles and bombers screaming overhead. It made quite an
I lived in Taipei for four and a half years, and have visited many times since then. I've seen firsthand
the national stress caused by China's threat. And now, working in Washington D.C., I can see first-hand the stress caused by that same threat here in America, just from a different angle.
In my opinion, the future of Taiwan's defense is probably the most critical and enduring strategic
challenging facing American security professionals. Why? Because no other democratic country in the world, and no other close U.S. security partner, faces a threat as severe as Taiwan's. Moreover, no other flashpoint is as likely to see the world's two strongest countries go to war. That's why the China problem is so disquieting.
So tonight we are not talking about a border dispute, or a terrorist threat, or a grey zone contingency. What is at stake is nothing less than the freedom of 23 million people. Taiwan faces an existential threat, the horror of invasion and occupation at the hands of a ruthless and brutal regime. For many in this room, what may be at stake is the lives of their friends and loved ones.
And the China problem is about more than just Taiwan. Professor Aaron Friedberg calls USChina
relations a contest for supremacy, a struggle for mastery in Asia. At its core it's about two competing visions: a democratic one and an authoritarian one. It's about regional peace and stability in Asia and beyond. As Americans, we cannot, and we must not, get this problem wrong.
China's emergence over the past thirty-five years has slowly and steadily undermined democracy
and human rights around the world. Now the Chinese Communist Party is harnessing the immense talents and treasures of 1.3 billion people to build a military machine; and one powerful enough, they hope, to challenge the United States, and the free world order which we lead.
So what will the world look like thirty-five years from now? As a young analyst, that is a question I often ponder. Will China continue to grow in power and ambition? Will it stagnate, run out of steam economically, and lash out at neighbors? Or will China destabilize completely and collapse?
Whatever it does, Taiwan's life will still be at stake until the Communist's grip on power ends, and democracy finds a home in Beijing.
We cannot see the future, of course. But we can look clearly at the present. The main objective of China's military armaments program is well-known. China is building up for the day when it can project overwhelming violence across the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese military's number one mission is the invasion of Taiwan. This mission includes preemptively attacking American forces that would come to Taiwan's aid.
We don't know the future, but we know from reading internal Chinese military documents China's vision for the future. Beijing's wants to conquer Taiwan, to turn it into an Orwellian police state. Chinese military planners envision a future post-war Taiwan that is shattered and subjugated. They want Taiwan under the iron heel of martial law. They dream of a Taiwan that they can used as a military base to threaten Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and our other friends inAsia. Their "China dream" is a nightmare for the rest of us.
When PRC General Secretary, Xi Jinping, was in Washington, D.C. earlier this fall, nothing was said about Taiwan. He gave a long interview with the Wall Street Journal as part of his visit. Not once was Taiwan mentioned.
This shows us, I think, that Beijing is working hard to lull American audiences into a sense of complacency, keeping us blind to China's bad intentions. After 36 years of U.S.-PRC relations, many Americans continue to fall into the trap of thinking China will change and become a normal responsible country. That would be fantastic, if true. But today there is unfortunately no evidence to back that hope.
We need to start dealing with the China we have, not the China we wished we had. I think it's fair to say that the China-watching community in America has been surprised by the PRC's trajectory over the past three and a half decades. We have gotten it wrong. The community has failed to predict what China was capable of doing, and what it would do.
One of the biggest problems today is that not enough American scholars and analysts are seriously studying the Taiwan. Too many have bought into Chinese propaganda and disinformation. They have written Taiwan off. Many others have bent to Chinese pressure and avoided the topic altogether.
Making matters worse, folks who support the KMT think the DPP is the real threat. Folks who support the DPP think the KMT is the true enemy. China is working hard every day to drive wedges between us all, and sometimes, sadly, it works.
So where do things stand in U.S.-Taiwan security relations today?
The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 makes it the law of the land that the U.S. government provide military arms and services to meet Taiwan's self defense needs. It also mandates that the Pacific Command in Hawaii maintain the capacity to come to Taiwan's defense, if the need should arise.
So let's look at those two commitments.
On the first commitment, the one regarding defense equipment and services, I would observe that
there are some very positive signs, but overall the picture is concerning. The good news is that U.S.-Taiwan military-to-military interactions have never been more frequent. There are now well over 3,000 Department of Defense visits to Taiwan each year, and the numbers keep climbing by
The good news is we are flying the American flag 24-7 at our de facto embassy in Taipei, AIT, and we are going to have U.S. Marine guards stationed there, starting in a year or two, hopefully in uniform.
The good news is that we are going to have Taiwanese fighter pilots and commandos and other units participating in more advanced military training exercises on American soil. Some of that has already started.
The bad news is that the Ministry of National Defense no longer trusts the Pentagon to provide all the things Taiwan needs for self defense. Taiwan needs new fighter planes, submarines, warships, tanks, missiles, and drones. Absent these capabilities, there is no way Taiwan can balance against China's massive military buildup.
Yet Washington for the past decade has generally only been willing to provide arms sales that
are designed to avoid provoking Beijing.
You know, my dad is a retired undercover state police detective, and both of my grandfathers worked as cops for part of their careers too. My great uncle was police chief in my hometown. So I grew up in a world of cops and robbers. And I never heard of any police department anywhere foregoing bulletproof vests and machineguns because it might offend the bad guys. It's a simple rule: you always want the good guys armed better than the bad guys. Taiwan deserves to have the best weapons systems America sells, not the cheap stuff that doesn't scare Beijing.
And these arms sales need to be regular and predictable. There has not been a congressional notification of a new arms sale to Taiwan since September 2011. That's four years and three months ago. This is an arm sales freeze. Why, because that's what China wants. According to the Congressional Research Service, from 1990 until 2005 there were major arms sales notifications to Taiwan every single year, and sometimes four or five times per year. But six of the past ten years have gone by with no new notifications.
Meanwhile China has doubled the number of ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. It has developed
entire classes of new offensive cruise missiles and drones. It has been deploying them across from Taiwan by the hundreds. And China has improved the lethality of its entire naval fleet, air force, and army, to include its space and cyberspace force. Most all these investments are for first strikes against Taiwan.
U.S. arms sales send the signal to Beijing that its threats against Taiwan are not legitimate, and will not be tolerated. They are the most visible manifestation of the U.S. position on Taiwan's sovereign status. These are government to government interactions. They show that Washington does not view Taiwan as part of the PRC. So having frequent as well as high quality sales is incredibly important for the strategic message that it sends.
So how about the second commitment: is the U.S. maintaining the capacity to respond? Is the Pacific command still ready to defend Taiwan? I think the answer is absolutely yes. But our advantages over China are slowly shrinking. So the mission would be a more difficult one. Now why is that? How could the Pentagon be letting this happen?
Well, as a nation we have suffered a series of strategic surprises in recent years, from the wars in Syria to Ebola in Africa, from Russia's invasion of the Crimea and the Ukraine to ISIS in Iraq, from North Korean nuclear tests to the government shutdown and budget crisis here in Washington. All of these dark shocks, and many others, have obscured our view and distracted attention away from the more dangerous threat to our national security and world peace.
To better understand the phenomenon, imagine you're aboard a large cruise liner and there's a leaky pipe in your galley spraying cold dirty water at you. At times like that it's easy to miss the typhoon clouds slowly gathering on the horizon. That's basically what's going on across the U.S. government.
Of course, we still have the finest military in the world, and its improving in some ways that are
important for Taiwan's defense. But China is growing in power with every passing day, so the cost of a war, in terms of what it might mean in American combat fatalities, is going up. Only by working more closely together can the U.S. and Taiwan keep a favorable balance in the Taiwan Strait. Only by working more closely together can we convince China that aggression would result in a disaster for the Chinese Communist Party.
So what might we hope for, or recommend, in terms of future U.S. policy?
Here are my top six points for your consideration:
First, arms sales. They need to be regular and high quality. The Pentagon should not be dictating what it thinks Taiwan does and does not need. No one knows Taiwan's defense requirements better than the expert commanders at the Ministry of National Defense. Taiwan has asked for help on building submarines. The U.S. should provide that assistance wholeheartedly.
Taiwan has asked for new fighter jets. We should make those available.
Second, military visits. The Pentagon should be sending high-ranking officials to visit Taiwan, not just mid-ranking desk officers. The Pacific Command should be sending its best admirals and generals to visit Taiwan and learn about the battlespace firsthand. Our defense attaché in Taipei should be a one-star general, not a colonel.
Third, military exercises. We should begin holding bilateral military exercises with Taiwan, the way we do with every other democratic country in the region. We should have our navy ships make port calls in Keelung and Kaohsiung. Our fighter planes should make regular visits to Taiwan's airbases as well. Same too with certain Army and Marine Corps units.
Fourth, security cooperation. The U.S. should include Taiwan in the fight against terrorism and piracy and human trafficking and drugs and all forms of international crime. The FBI should
have a legal attaché in Taipei to build that partnership.
Fifth, cyber warfare. No country on earth has more experience defending its networks from Chinese military hackers and spies than Taiwan. Moreover, Taiwan is a global hub for information and computer technology. More can and should be done by the U.S. to work together with Taiwan against this shared threat.
Sixth, disaster relief. Taiwan has an outstanding track-record and proven capabilities for conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The U.S. and Taiwan should be working shoulder to shoulder to respond when disaster strikes. Top leaders from the Department of Homeland Security, including representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard should visit Taiwan and learn from her experiences.
In addition, this is something that our State National Guard army and air force units could go to
Taiwan to learn about.
So how likely is it that any of these policy recommendations will ever go anywhere?
Only time can tell, but it won't be easy. Today Washington is paralyzed by a fear of Beijing's potential response to anything we do with Taiwan. I would submit that fear, not logic, is driving many decisions in our capital. We are often afraid to even imagine what could be achieved by a stronger US-Taiwan relationship. But I am confident that is going to change, slowly perhaps, but surely.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote: "I have sworn...eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." It's a quote I first saw under the dome at his memorial.
Now I don't know what the future of U.S.-Taiwan's security relations will be. I can't tell you
exactly what strategy, what concepts, and what forms of cooperation are best. But I have some
ideas, and I know many others do too.
I hope Washington can break free of the tyranny China is building over the minds of man. Years from now, I hope we don't look back with regret and wonder whether a stronger approach today could have saved the peace that we see slipping away in Asia.
Thank you all very much for your time tonight. It's an honor to be here and a privilege. Now I believe we have a bit more time allotted for discussion. Please let me know what your thoughts are, and what questions and recommendations you have.
Thanks again for having me.
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