Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Guardian on The Weapons Purchase

I have to admit that I am in despair over the simple inability of foreign columnists to get Taiwan right. I could list probably 30 blogs that whose writers have a more interesting and knowledgeable take on Taiwan, and well understand the issues surrounding the weapons purchase. This article from the Guardian makes puts out the same inane analysis that the others do, with a bonus error on the Taiwan Relations Act.

But the biggest question for Washington concerns Taiwan, which China regards as a "renegade province" and which the US is legally bound to defend under the Taiwan Relations Act. US pressure on Taipei is being exerted less publicly but with growing forcefulness.

I'm tracking down the writer's email so can carefully explain to him that the TRA obligates the US only to hold a meeting if China attacks Taiwan, and does not require the US to defend Taiwan.

Here is the relevant portion, Sec 3302

# (a) Defense articles and services
In furtherance of the policy set forth in section 3301 of this title, the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
# (b) Determination of Taiwan's defense needs
The President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, in accordance with procedures established by law. Such determination of Taiwan's defense needs shall include review by United States military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress.
# (c) United States response to threats to Taiwan or dangers to United States interests
The President is directed to inform the Congress promptly of any threat to the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan and any danger to the interests of the United States arising therefrom. The President and the Congress shall determine, in accordance with constitutional processes, appropriate action by the United States in response to any such danger.

Read it carefully. The TRA requires the US to provide for Taiwan's defense, but there is nothing in it to stop the President from saying "Taiwan's defense is well-provided for" as its airplanes are shot out of the sky and Chinese troops swarm onto the island. Judgment of Taiwan's defense needs is limited SOLELY to the President and Congress (no legal mechanism brings Taiwan itself into the debate) and they can come to any agreement their political calculus dictates. Should Taiwan be attacked, the President must notify Congress promptly.

And that's it. There is absolutely no guarantee of any defense for Taiwan. It is all political calculus. Realistically, at the moment, it is likely that the US will intervene. But there is no guarantee here. Continuing:

The main irritant is the internal political deadlock over a $10bn US arms sale that Washington is urging Taiwan to accept. But peace-building moves by the pro-reunification opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, which is pursuing a rapprochement with China in defiance of the independence-minded president, Chen Shui-bian, have also upset traditional US calculations.

Tisdall does at least dimly understand that the KMT is a problem, but erroneously refers to the KMT's cooperation with Beijing as a "peace-building move." That is simpleminded regurgitation of KMT propaganda. We then have the pro-forma citation of an analyst from the US also missing the nuances:

"If Taiwan is not willing to properly invest in its own self-defence, why should we, the US, provide for it?" Edward Ross, a senior Pentagon official, asked in a speech at the US-Taiwan Business Council last month. "At a time when young American men and women are in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan - countries not nearly as developed or politically evolved as Taiwan - an increasing number of Americans are asking hard questions about how much we are willing to sacrifice for the security and democracy of others."
Then the provision of decontextualized information, as if thousands didn't march in favor of the weapons purchase just last month. They, however, don't get a voice.

Many Taiwanese worry that new weapons could upset the fragile status quo; others believe it is pointless to try to match Beijing's military might; and still others feel the money would be better spent on social programmes.

Yes, and no doubt all of that it is true, but your claims are unsupported by survery data, Mr. Tisdall. Finally Tisdall cites Lee Teng-hui on the arms purchase:

One such response came from the former president and fierce advocate of independence, Lee Teng-hui.

He said the main problem with the arms sale was that the defensive weapons on offer were not good enough. In his view, only serious military hardware will guarantee Taiwan's future. Another reason, perhaps, why Mr Rumsfeld's attempt to stop China building weapons and to sell arms to Taiwan looks likely to self-destruct.

Without ever mentioning that Lee has publicly backed it. Tisdall also does not mention that the pro-China parties have blocked it, while Chen supports the purchase, SOP for foreign reports of this.

In sum, a poor job of research that results in a slanted presentation. Taiwan still awaits the foreign reporter who can get things right.


Sun Bin said...

We can disagree on KMT's visit to the mainland helps the cause for peace.

But there is an 'interesting' (or 'ironic') similarity between TRA and ASL. They both said, "I have the sole discretion to decide what I would do"

Michael Turton said...

Yes, the TRA and ASL are nicely symmetrical.

I wanted to comment on your game theory analysis -- I do not think that the ASL really makes things safer by clarifying things, but rather, reduces China's options and thus intensifies the risk of war.

I agree that the KMT is a peace party, in the same way that Munich in 1938 was a peace agreement.;)


Red A said...

Very interesting on the T.R.A. Is this more a spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law though?

I would definitely call KMT actions with regard to China as peace building. Taiwan independence is popular but obviously not popular enough to win in all out elections. Therefore, we cannot discount the KMT's position. For example, I don't think Michael would consider Israeli doves who support an end to all West Bank settlements as "Munich" types or "not peace builders"- and yet they are in a minority in Israel.

Those marchers in Taipei have MULTIPLE voices. They elect legislators and presidents. Their voice is heard in Taiwan - but their side did not win a majority of seats in the last elections here. You need to respect people's voting choices even when they disagree with yours.

Most likely, the electorate doesn't want unification OR independence and keeps splitting the differences.