Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sutter: Taiwan is outside the hedge

Numerous commentators have remarked on how Asian states on China's perimeter are now moving closer to the US as the next wave of Chinese expansion kicks into gear. Robert Sutter, the longtime US government Taiwan and China expert observes of "Taiwan's" approach"

In contrast to the public support found in the capitals of South Korea, Japan, ASEAN, India, and other Asia-Pacific countries for the Obama administration’s greater regional activism, Taiwan has maintained a low public profile. Presumably reflecting its interests and priorities, the government of President Ma Ying-jeou continues to devote its attention to advancing positive relations with China. It doesnot give much mention to relations with the United States or maneuverings by regional governments in the face of new challenges posed by recent Chinese assertiveness. It works to solidify its recent free trade agreement with China, the so-called Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and endeavors to use the framework to gain China’s acquiescence to advance free trade arrangements between Taiwan and other countries in Asia and elsewhere. It highlights positive breakthroughs in its policy of reassurance and engagement with China, notably its recent joint naval rescue exercises with mainland forces. Taiwan’s approach led it to side strongly with China regarding territorial disputes with Japan over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands. Taiwan notably confronted Japan by sending coast guard ships to protect Taiwanese fishermen working in the disputed region, although it more mildly reaffirmed territorial claims in line with China's in the South China Sea.

The Taiwan government and the US administration maintain close relations. Regular US arms sales and other security ties are complimented by off-again, on-again efforts to advance relations through such proposals as a trade and investment treaty, arrangements for an extradition treaty, and a visa-waiver program. However, Taiwan’s top priority since 2008 on reassuring China seems to show that Taiwan is less willing to follow others in the Asia-Pacific in solidifying relations with the United States in a period of Chinese assertiveness.

Many in the United States, Taiwan, and elsewhere welcome Taiwan’s policy choices. Taiwan’s approach encourages a calmer Taiwan Strait than was the case in President Lee Teng-hui’s later years or during the Chen Shui-bian presidency. Some see President Ma Ying-jeou’s policies as moving Taiwan further toward understandings with China that will allow for a peaceful resolution of the “Taiwan issue,” thereby ending a longstanding policy problem for the United States and regional stability. On the other hand, Taiwan’s recent record suggests that those in the United States and the Asia-Pacific who seek Taiwanese actions aimed at enhancing regional contingency plans to deal with possible domineering Chinese assertiveness are likely to be disappointed. Such contingency plans, popularly known as “hedging,” appear to have a much lower priority in Taipei than in other Asian-Pacific capitals. At present, Taiwan seems to choose to stand with China, outside the “hedge.”
Sutter is as centrist as they come; it is worth noting that he has "moved" to the right as China has risen -- the reality is with so many in Washington eager sell themselves to Beijing, it is Washington, not Sutter, that has lurched in the wrong direction.

Over at AEI Claude Barfield summarizes:
He then posits that as a result of Beijing’s clumsy diplomacy most nations in the region—he rattles off examples of Japan, Korea, and ASEAN countries—are moving toward the United States and adopting strong “hedging” initiatives, with the conspicuous exception of Taiwan, which, “’has shown little public interest in any steps toward reengagement with the United States that would compromise its top focus on reassurance and cooperative interaction with China,” writes Sutter. “At present,” he concludes, “Taiwan seems to choose to stand with China outside the ‘hedge.’”

Sutter is clearly puzzled by Taiwan’s stance, but in the end he makes no predictions about the future and cabins his analysis to the situation “at present.” I would suggest that one possible explanation regarding Taiwan’s recent behavior stems from a sequence of events that Sutter mentions in passing—the delicate diplomatic maneuvering leading up to negotiation of the PRC-Taiwan Economic Cooperation and Framework Agreement (ECFA) and Taiwan’s goal of getting Beijing’s acquiescence (silent permission) to negotiate additional free trade agreements with other Asian nations. Whatever the medium- to long-range stance Taiwan may adopt, in the short run I suspect that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s fear is that any sign that Taiwan is “hedging,” or siding with others against the mainland, could lead to a summary and decisive veto of further economic integration efforts. There is a case for lying low at the moment—though I’d be interested in other reactions to the situation Sutter describes.

Barfield is wrong on both counts: Sutter is not at all puzzled by Taiwan's stance, and the "delicate situation" is not caused by Taiwan's China relationship and the desire for trade agreements but rather by the KMT's domestic political situation and its own internal divisions about how and whether to sell out Taiwan to China. Sutter knows perfectly well where President Ma's sympathies lie; he just can't say so out loud. But note that Sutter gives a strong hint when he observes that Taiwan confronted Japan over the Senkakus. Hint, hint. Why would Taiwan do that? Merely to gain more warm fuzzies from China for ECFA and future trade relations with other nations? Nope. Because our current government thinks it's the government of China, of which Taiwan is a province, and the Senkakus are a possession, and because the KMT is allied to the CCP. Taiwan's work on behalf of China in the Senkakus shows that Ma and the KMT government are not "outside the hedge" but inside the orbit of China.

Indeed, a new millenium has dawned here.

The Senkakus are also a touchy area for Taiwan nationalists, many of whom suffer from the delusion that the Senkakus belong to Taiwan. Hence Ma scores some points there when he stands up big in the Senkakus.

This from the Eurasia Monitor from the Jamestown Brief is also apropo:

PLA Displays Network-Centric Capabilities in Peace Mission 2010
Force elements, planning, scenario and the conduct of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Peace Mission 2010, staged in Kazakhstan from September 9 to 25, were largely similar to previous exercises (EDM, September 28). That is apart from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s contribution, which was significant for a number of reasons including the geopolitical context of instability in Kyrgyzstan and the recent violence in Tajikistan. Intervention during a crisis in Central Asia appears more plausible, though it remains unclear whether the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) or the SCO might offer a viable multilateral framework in such circumstances, or if a bilateral agreement would be preferred resulting in a unilateral operation. Following the failure of the CSTO to intervene in Kyrgyzstan to restore order after the request made by the interim Kyrgyz government in June, many have questioned the organization’s actual capability to offer credible stabilization options. Peace Mission 2010 showcased the SCO’s potential, if consensus were achieved, to provide an alternative and the scenario involved requesting UN Security Council backing before commencing operations.

Uzbekistan’s refusal to participate in the exercise left the other five SCO members to uphold the multilateral organization’s security credentials. Apart from predictable political statements concerning the SCO’s need to combat the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism, the exercise concentrated on an anti-terrorist theme, displaying unity of action and implausible institutional equality. However, the level of manpower was less than Peace Mission 2007 (6,500 personnel in 2007, compared with 5,000 this year), while much of the equipment revealed little difference; unsurprising in terms of the weak Tajik and Kyrgyz armed forces, though puzzling especially since the Kazakh military claims to make substantial progress towards its modernization. Despite the Russian military reform, the “new look” force elements appeared decidedly dated. It is clear, however, that the PLA grouping and equipment eclipsed the other four SCO members (Xinhua, September 25).

In this context, Major-General Meng Guoping, the deputy commander of the PLA’s participating forces, highlighted five key advances during Peace Mission 2010, all bolstering an image of the PLA’s power projection capabilities. The equipment used by the PLA featured during the National Day celebrations in 2009, were Mode-99 tanks, 122 howitzer carriers, the 425 integrated air defense system, and the J-10 fighter aircraft as well as command shelters. Moreover, PLA spokesmen emphasized that all the equipment was domestically produced. Significantly, the design and assembly of the equipment was aimed at fitting a combat system to facilitate network-centric operations, linked by ground and air command platforms united in an information system. General Meng Guoping specifically used the phrase “system of systems” in referring to the deployment of network-centric assets (Zhongguo Xinwen She, September 21).

PLA involvement in Peace Mission exercises has also evolved to compensate for the difficulties of the language barriers, honing training in an unfamiliar environment and switching to field commands. In the PLA field camps formed for Peace Mission 2010, tents, beds and shower camps were all transported and built by the Chinese. Efforts were made to improve command and control during the exercise, extending it from the strategic level to the tactical level. Joint and coordinated action was stressed, for instance involving the Chinese air force (PLAAF) with their Russian and Kazakh counterparts: two Kazakh MiG-29 fighters were joined by three H-6 PLAAF aircraft to form an escort force, while helicopter assets from China, Russia and Kazakhstan formed a unified strike force. Equally, attention was given to securing PLA communications channels during the exercise, presumably rehearsing anti-jamming measures (Zhongguo Xinwen She, September 21).

Moreover, the high-profile PLAAF demonstration of strategic air power, involving fighters and bombers conducting non-stop flights to simulate high-precision strikes in Kazakhstan, before returning to their bases in Urumqi were “safeguarded” by adding mid-air refueling to ensure their success. PLAAF senior officers stated that they could have conducted the mission without refueling (Zhongguo Xinwen She, September 21, Jiefangjun Bao, September 23). As the PLAAF develops its air combat group, integrating combat, early warning command, long-range strikes, escort and cover, and in-flight refueling, Peace Mission 2010 was confidently used to demonstrate advances made towards carrying out independent long-range precision strikes. The PLAAF was evidently practicing offensive air operations in an informatized network-centric context. The underlying message appeared to be that the PLA stands out among the SCO forces for its growing power projection capabilities (Zhongguo Xinwen She, September 21).

Since the other members of the SCO currently lack network-centric capabilities, it is revealing that China chose to demonstrate these power projection levels during a multilateral exercise. The reasons underlying this show of genuine military strength are rooted in the dynamic tension that exists within the competitive and cooperative Sino-Russian strategic partnership. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and China’s emergence as the second strongest world economic power, many perceive that Beijing is willing to raise its defense profile internationally. Equally, during Stride 2009, the PLA rehearsed intervention to a depth of 2,000 kilometers, indicating that China might be prepared to intervene in either Russia or Central Asia in defense of its national interests. The Russian operational-strategic exercise, Vostok 2010 (June 29 to July 8) in the Siberian and Far East Military Districts, to which PLA observers were invited, was partly in response to Stride 2009 (EDM, July 14). Vostok 2010 was used as an opportunity to profile the “new look” and exaggerate Russian progress towards developing network-centric capabilities (still largely at a formative stage). Peace Mission 2010 reminded Moscow that Beijing actually possesses military capabilities currently lacking in the Russian conventional armed forces. China conveyed the message in the exercise that it has its disposal the capability to intervene “cleanly” in Central Asia, without the need for temporary or permanent regional basing, probably under a multilateral umbrella. Yet, the decision to showcase these capabilities may also reflect recognition in Beijing that Moscow is serious about its military reform. Moreover, in the future, there might conceivably be joint Sino-Russian network-centric operations in Central Asia, to mitigate the emergence of a resurgent regional Taliban threat in the aftermath of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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John Herodotus said...

Great post, Michael. I think that this relatively small episode in the Senkakus marks a decisive change in the dynamics of East Asian politics.

But, I have doubts about the reactions and characterizations of both the KMT and the DPP.

I think Ma has shown a new side to his political principles by not only posturing as a democratic Chinese nationalist but now as a rather aggressive one. But, I think that in painting him merely as a Chinese nationalist, we might miss part of the picture, because the KMT needs to find a niche in the Communist Chinese ecosystem, if you will. The KMT has achieved its status by its achievements in Taiwan and cannot simply hand over the keys to the island, even if the Taiwanese people were to acquiesce. Taiwan is the KMT's leverage in any ultimate deal with the Communists. They have to maintain their status in Taiwanese domestic politics while simultaneously finding a way to fit into Chinese domestic politics. That might be even more difficult than Taiwanese independence.

As for the DPP, I think this episode is a demonstration of the paucity of leadership on their side, as well, and the lack of a real foreign policy. China paints the Senkakus red, the KMT paints them blue, and the most original thing the DPP can do is paint them green. When Ma dropped the ball, then Tsai Ingwen should have stepped into the breach and talked about peace and stability in the region. These opportunities don't come around often, and I think she and the DPP blew it. I know that she is in the middle of a mayoral election, though.

Michael Turton said...

Interesting observations and comments, JH. Excellent point about Tsai too. I was disappointed in the DPP response too but I hadn't made the stability connection to the DPP's political stance -- I was too focused on the position of foreign observers who keep arguing that Ma is good for stability.

David said...

A follow up to John's comments which perhaps highlights the situation in the DPP. Hsiao Bi-khim's Facebook page* contains this recent update.

最近台美日中關係,以及亞太情勢發生了一些變化,我們雖然忙著國內選舉,還是要多多關注周邊的狀況![translation: Recently Taiwan-USA-Japan-China relations, as well as the situation in the Asia-Pacific, have undergone some changes. Although we're occupied with the domestic elections we still have to pay attention to the situation surrounding us.]

*It's publicly accessible so I think it is OK to quote it.

Readin said...

Barfield's use "permission" is misleading.

GL said...

The KMT has achieved its status by its achievements in Taiwan and cannot simply hand over the keys to the island, even if the Taiwanese people were to acquiesce. Taiwan is the KMT's leverage in any ultimate deal with the Communists.

The Taiwanese people will probably never acquiesce, so it's a moot point. The KMT couldn't hand Taiwan over as you say even if they wanted to - which is something that most of them aren't interested in, and the ones who are, will have died off soon.

There's probably plenty of things to worry about in East Asia but Taiwan-China unification is not one of them as it's about as likely as Sarah Palin becoming a Muslim.

John Herodotus said...

It's a fair point about Ma. I have been taken in to some degree by the (relative) competence/stability aura he has cultivated, mostly because of disillusionment with the greens.

But, the DPP doesn't make it easy to turn back. I understand that they're caught up in these elections, but I don't see greens trying to think about what an East Asia with a free Taiwan would look like or how it might be achieved.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Have you heard the buzz about the
Taiwan Civil Government moving to
a swanky Washington office in preparation to welcome former president CSB to be its supremo if ever he is released?


Anonymous said...

"Taiwan’s recent record suggests that those in the United States and the Asia-Pacific who seek Taiwanese actions aimed at enhancing regional contingency plans to deal with possible domineering Chinese assertiveness are likely to be disappointed. Such contingency plans, popularly known as “hedging,” appear to have a much lower priority in Taipei than in other Asian-Pacific capitals."

Sutter's comments (...are likely to be disappointed...much lower priority in Taipei...) reek of understatement.

Ma Ying-jeou made it crystal clear to US policymakers, with his remark earlier this year that he would "never ask Americans to fight for Taiwan", that the US is correspondingly not welcome to seek further geostrategic support from Taiwan. He made it clear at the time of Typhoon Morakot, by refusing US assistance until China had had first refusal, that his administration's primary partnership is with Beijing not Washington. And by standing so blatantly on China's side of the line in the latest Senkakus/Diaoyutai dispute, in opposition to Taiwan's only two real allies in the world, he made it clear once again that he regards Japan and the US as the common adversaries of the ROC and PRC.

It's amazing, under these circumstances, that the F-16 C/D debate is being allowed to stagger on at all. I don't see how the Pentagon can ever consent to selling advanced weaponry to Ma Ying-jeou's "China".

Anonymous said...

Just want to say, excellent comments on this thread. It is part of what makes this site so interesting and valuable.

I only wish that someone smart in the DPP (Hsiao Bi-khim?)would use the analysis this site offers to help formulate policy or at least use it to help manage their media relations.

Sadly, I do not believe anyone in the DPP even knows this website exists. (Foreigners, what the hell do they know....)

Marc said...

I do not believe anyone in the DPP even knows this website exists.

Sorry, but that's a rather obtuse statement. We're in a tiny country with a profoundly complex networked society. Nothing escapes the attention of most people here.

I know for certain that there are important persons in both the KMT and DPP who are aware of and monitor The View...

Marc said...

For those who feel they don't hear enough analysis or commentary from DPP:

Hsiao Bi-khim's announcements and commentaries can be followed on Facebook at:

So can Tsai Ing-wen's page (almost 50000 members!) can Wild at Heart Defense Fund

And Su Tseng-chang's (almost 75000 members!)

Here's the Wild at Heart Defense Fund page

Ma Ying-jeou's page - if you're seeking alternatives. He lists his political views as "moderate":

The Facebook KMT page has about 7000 members and lists itself as a "non-profit corporation."

Mayor Hau apparently doesn't have a FB page, nor does Chen Chu or Jason Hu. Chen Shui-bian has a private page for "friends" only.

John Herodotus said...

GL, I am not quite as confident as you are about what Taiwan's status will be in the coming decades. I think much of it depends on what China's status will be in the coming years. Could Taiwan willingly join a democratic confederation of Chinese provinces one day? Hard to imagine, but I believe that many Taiwanese, even those who identify themselves exclusively as Taiwanese, would move to a kind of dual identity if China were not so obnoxious. Or, if Japan were somehow to resume the role of neighborhood bully.

My main point, I suppose, is that the KMT faces as difficult a task working its way into Chinese domestic politics as the DPP does working its way into international politics. Moreover, I think that the KMT is aware of this constraint. They don't want to merely return Taiwan to the motherland a la Hong Kong. They believe that they should be in the halls of power. But, how to play that role in a communist dictatorship? I suspect many in the KMT are still torn by their nationalistic sympathies and their more liberal ones, both as a matter of principle and of practicality.

Marc said...

My mistype for the FB page address for Tsai Ing-wen.

It should be: