Thursday, July 15, 2010

Greater US-Taiwan Engagement needed

A couple of recent articles serve as reminders of the issues ECFA is calling forth for the US and its Asian partners. The other day the Taipei Times reported on the remarks of Randy Schriver:
Former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia Randy Schriver said that US President Barack Obama’s administration may be “on the verge” of changing its policies toward Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.

While not spelling out the possible change in detail, Schriver strongly hinted that it could result in a Taiwan arms sale freeze.
After reviewing some of the issues surrounding the missiles China points at Taiwan, Schriver argues:
“The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to deny a Taiwan arms-sales freeze is in place, perhaps protesting a bit too much,” he wrote.

“Why does the administration continue a fiction that Taiwan has not formally requested more F-16[C/D] fighters? Why do mid and junior-level officials within the Obama administration allude to instructions from ‘senior leadership’ to hold congressional notifications on Taiwan arms sales and not to expect another major sale in 2010?” he asked.

“Even after [the] ECFA, a strong and capable Taiwan remains a key ingredient to security in the region,” he wrote.
The go-slow on the F-16 sales is one of the many areas where the Obama Administration is pursuing the same policies as the Bush Administration. Schriver advises the US not to lose its nerve. Good advice, that. But many in policy positions have fallen victim to the Chinese game of using "tension" to manage the Beijing-Washington relationship. Essentially the Chinese claim you are "causing tension" when you oppose their goals, and "harmonious" when you serve them. Remember always that with China, "tension" is a policy choice to force others to make concrete concessions to China for the sake of "maintaining the relationship." They are likely to be a bit nerve-challenged....

Arms sales are an important symbol of US commitment to Taiwan and to the region. Despite the talk of peace, China recently upped its aggression level with the announcement that the South China Sea islands constitute a "core national interest". In response to the Chinese military build up and recent Chinese provocations, Japan has extended its air defense zone toward Taiwan. It will be extremely difficult for China to conduct offensive operations against Taiwan without violating Japan's air defense zone, as well as its territorial waters. Naturally the KMT government protested this.

Where is the US in all this? Well, Robert Gates' recent visit to China resulted in some exchanges on China's expansionism. Talk is nice, and tough talk is better. But some concrete expressions of US support for Taiwan would be great. One would be more weapons....

....the other would be closer economic relations. Rosen and Wang, whose recently published analysis of the results of ECFA has been widely disseminated in the media, are cited in a Taipei Times piece arguing that the ECFA agreement calls for greater US engagement:
“The economic cooperation framework agreement with China will fundamentally change the game between Taiwan and China and hence affect the regional economy and even the transpacific tempo for the US,” they said in the report, Deepening China-Taiwan Relations Through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.

US engagement in Asian economic integration is important, they wrote, and Taipei and Washington could add to the balance in geoeconomic momentum centered on China by reinvigorating their trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) talks, and by considering other opportunities for transpacific bridge-building that includes the US.
While Rosen and Wang's analysis is probably far too rosy, their call for closer economic relations is spot on. Closer US relations with Taiwan would be an important signal. Washington, however, appears to be split on how to handle China.

One issue not raised by either piece is the problem of Taiwan's own behavior. Again and again I have heard from foreign analysts and others with similar connections that the Taiwan side is "not ready" or "not serious" about upping its level of engagement with foreign nations. The idiotic beef flap, which not only peeved the US but caused many of its analysts to re-assess their opinions of Ma Ying-jeou, is only one example. I hope that some knowledgeable person will make public a critique of the Taiwan side in this discussion, so we can better understand what is going on.
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Beben Koben said...

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D said...

That Asia Times opinion piece is nuts. Incidentally, that "Institute of Foreign Studies" the author belongs to seems to have some kind of mandate to push this "China's legitimate rights" argument: their "executive dean" just published a screed in the English-language "Global Times" on the US-South Korea alliance: He even pulls out a Cuban missile crisis comparison (with PRC in the role of the US, the US in the role of the USSR, and South Korea/Japan/etc as Cuba).

I guess it's a PRC version of the Heritage Foundation....

Unfortunately, the ugly points in the record of US foreign policy make it all too easy for these people to argue that "the US hegemony just represents its interests, so why not let China have its turn". This produces odd convergences of different parties, like when the PRC (in the article I just mentioned) claims, just like Korean commentators MT linked to a few days ago, that there's no proof that North Korea sank that South Korean ship. Another case is whether or not Taiwan should buy arms from the US -- China doesn't think so, obviously, but there also seem to be some Taiwanese who are against it too, because they want to be independent of the US hegemony, or don't want to support the US military-industrial complex, like the South Korean writer MT linked to today. Sentiment against US bases in East Asia is the same dynamic.

Well, the future of East Asia will be interesting.

Anonymous said...

I've been rogering lot of Taiwanese girls and I'm from the US. Does this count?

Sage said...

This week a headline read; (U.S.)"Treasury Says China Not Manipulating Currency".

I mean, say again?

I find this very difficult to swallow.

This small but significant use of language by Secretary Geithner is disturbing.

A freeze or even suspension of arm sales to Taiwan would not surprise me.

If an administration can do a complete about face on an issue that has been on the front diplomatic burner and on the lips of average Americans for so many years, what are they capable of flipping on ... under pressure?

I believe that the Taiwan/DPP should be forging a stronger relationship with Japan and seeking their support. A strong Asia depends on Japan and it's time for Japan to take their rightful position.

Japan must make it's voice be heard and take an aggressive position. Taiwan needs this ally and Asia needs some checks and balances.

Michael Turton said...

It's funny to observe that by trashing its prior agreements and by invariably breaking any arrangement it cannot be forced to keep, Beijing has reduced its policy options to conquest or no; the same complaint that some historians vent at Churchhill and Roosevelt when they adopted unconditional surrender as the basis for terminating WWII. Beijing would have had a lot more policy flexibility if it had a good track record with treaties....

green sleeeves said...

jsut FYI on Schriver

green sleeeves said...

they invited comments, I sent one but didn't know if it's posted yet.