Friday, November 03, 2006

Arms Bill Cornucopia

President Chen and the KMT exchanged barbs yesteday as the Prez commissioned two of the Navy's new/old Kidd class destroyers, purchased from the US after significant upgrades. The President urged the Blues to pass the arms bill, but got a nasty response from Ma Ying-jeou, Chairman of the KMT:

Later yesterday, in response to the president's comments, [KMT Chairman] Ma said the KMT agreed with Chen that national defense is crucial for the country, but called on the president to stop painting the pan-blue camp as "red," or pro-China.

"We have already started reviewing the 2007 national defense budget ... As to the 2006 supplemental budget, we have repeated many times that we basically support sending the bill for legislative review," Ma said at Taipei City Hall.

"We will deal with the bills in this session. But President Chen would get a better response if he stopped smearing the pan-blue camp as being `red,'" Ma said.

The KMT has said many times it "basically supports" sending the bill for review. Each of the 60-odd times they have blocked it, eh? Chen would get a better response if he stopped referring to the Blue camp as 'red'? You mean, like the other 60-odd times?

Caroline Gluck of the BBC, who did a poor job on the Shih Ming-te demonstrations, rebounded with a succint and spot-on summation of the local takes on the arms issue.

The ceremony took place amid a fierce debate over the purchase of future weapons from the US.

Opposition parties in parliament have blocked a multi-billion dollar arms package for more than two years. They have questioned the high cost and fear it will force Taiwan into an arms race with China.

A slimmed-down arms bill was rejected by a procedural committee earlier this week, marking the 62nd time the budget has been blocked.

At the ceremony, President Chen urged the opposition to approve a new arms budget.

He said they had a responsibility to strengthen the island's security in the face of China's continued military modernisation.

He also defended similar comments made by senior US official in Taiwan Stephen Young last week.

Mr Young had urged lawmakers to pass a new arms bill by the end of the year and not play partisan politics.

But his comments had set off a political storm, with many opposition lawmakers accusing him of interfering in Taiwan's domestic affairs.

The US does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but Washington is required by law to help the island maintain its defences.

Kudos to Gluck for getting things mostly right (might have been nice if she had noted that the Blues support unification -- see Tkacik and Needham's piece discussed below, which asks a key question: is it fiscal concerns, or desire to annex the island to China, that drives Blue opposition?). Foreign reporters here report only the surfaces of things; but fortunately two reports came out in the last couple of days that give a more in-depth view. The Nelson Report, the Washington Insider's report, gives a US-centric view of things (emphasis mine):

.... There is an ongoing flap over a tough speech recently given by the US representative there, the experienced diplomat Steve Young, expressing the Administration's frustration over Taiwan's failure to fund items on an arms sale package offered back in 2001....any items, just keep your promises to us, pick something, and move on, was the gist of it.

After careful consultations in Washington a couple of weeks ago, Young returned to Taipei and reminded both parties in the Legislative Yuan that their leaders had promised back in March that the years-long gridlock on defense procurement would be broken...yet the deadlock continues. Young was too tactful to add the obvious...each party tries to use the issue to the disadvantage of the other.


For the record, we can report that Young's words were carefully phrased, and carefully vetted, in advance by Vice President Cheney's office, the Department of State, and that they basically echoed the very thoughtful speech of Taiwan Affairs Director Ford Hart, to the US-Taiwan Business Council in Denver, earlier this year.

We make these points, as Young's words caused a firestorm in the Legislative Yuan, and in some of the more imaginative Taiwanese news media, with Young being accused of everything from meddling in Taiwan's internal affairs, to somehow free-lancing on the matter and trying to cause trouble.


>Any doubts on this matter should be resolved by a Heritage Foundation paper released yesterday, written by the new chief of the Asia Studies section, Michael Needham, and his veteran colleague, John Tkacik.

The US is basically sick of the package being a political football used by each side against the other, which it certainly is. Admit also, though, that the price of the submarines reflects the internal politics of US navy procurement. The US needs to face the fact that the Blues would not be able to make a reasonable case -- aside from the steady stream of Blue lies -- that the package is too expensive if it were not, in fact, too expensive. The price of the submarines needs to go down. A US concession here would make it extremely difficult for the Blues to make a substantive case.

The Needham/Tkacik paper is online a Heritage. An excerpt:

Top officials in Taiwan’s biggest opposition party, the “Kuomintang” (Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the KMT), which controls the national legislature, purport to have the nation’s security at heart. They appear, however, to be doing all they can to undermine it. Central to Taiwan’s defense strategy are anti-submarine hunter-seeker aircraft, diesel-electric submarines, and an advanced Patriot ballistic missile defense system. In October 2005, the KMT blocked the $16 billion budget for these three systems on account of the cost. The Ministry of Defense cut $5 billion, but when the new $11 billion budget request came up, the legislature’s Procedures Committee still refused to move the bill to the Defense Committee.

Our own concerns are deepened by repeated promises month after month, year after year, from the KMT that its legislators would move forward on the budget—and imminently. We were personally reassured, again, at the beginning of September that action on a key “supplemental defense budget” would be on the agenda in the fall legislative session.

Without a firm commitment to Taiwan’s defenses, Taiwanese leaders must understand that their relationship with Beijing becomes one that places exclusive reliance on Beijing’s good will. In any future dialogue between Taipei and Beijing on Taiwan, Taiwan’s representatives will be negotiating from a position of weakness. Any “interim agreement” that supposedly puts off “independence” in return for Beijing’s guarantee of “no military attack” risks creating an environment where Taiwan’s defense needs are taken for granted to the point of unilateral disarmament—while Beijing, of course, continues its military expansion. Any Taiwanese deal that calls for Beijing to remove its 820 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan will be undermined because those missiles are all road-mobile and can be returned to the Taiwan Strait just as easily as they were removed.

A defenseless Taiwan has only one future in the long-run: a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic of China. Accordingly, Ambassador Young pleaded with Taiwan’s legislators to consider their country’s future beyond the current political turmoil that has paralyzed Taiwan’s defenses to date.

Tkacik, as the Nelson Report avers, is probably Taiwan's strongest supporter in Washington. Readers should also note that Tkacik and Needham are disgusted with the long string of KMT promises -- and he writes from Heritage, long a friend of the KMT. Tkacik's understanding of Taiwan runs deep -- note that above Tkacik and Needham, almost alone among foreign commentators, write out the full name of the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party). Later on in this piece they refer to Taiwan's Blues as the "anti-defense" legislators and identify the central concern, ignored in the foreign media reports (like Gluck's above):

Ambassador Young should continue his public dialogue with Taiwan's anti-defense legislators to determine whether their objections to defense spending are purely fiscal, grounded in spite against President Chen, or ultimately based on a desire for Taiwan’s unification with China.

Tkacik earlier this year blasted the Blues for being "pro-China" in the WSJ:

That won't, of course, stop Taiwan's pro-China politicians from trying to cause trouble over the issue. They risk seeing one of their most important cards -- the charge that Mr. Chen is "jeopardizing Taiwan's ties with its most important ally" -- undermined by Washington's relaxed reaction to Monday's announcement.

Even at that time it was apparent who would end up in trouble over the arms bill, if only Washington could be made to see who was actually the source of the trouble: the Blues. As Tkacik noted, the Blues could always accuse Chen of causing problems with the US. Now they might not be able to anymore.

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