Last week Stephen
Young, America's de facto ambassador in Taipei, Taiwan, held
his first substantive press conference with Taiwan's media to
deliver the most recent iteration of the Bush Administration's
"Taiwan Policy." Ambassador Young made it clear that he was
speaking authoritatively on behalf of the Administration, having
just returned to Taipei from consultations in Washington. The
sobering presentation foreboded the future of Taiwan's relationship
with the United States.
The good news is
that Washington believes democracy is one of "Taiwan's greatest
exports" and something that Taiwan's "friends in the United States
and around the world are also very, very impressed by." Young
also lauded strong trade ties between the U.S. and Taiwan. Taiwan
is America's eighth largest trading partner, he said, and "our
sixth largest agricultural trading partner," with bilateral trade
in 2006 expected to exceed $60 billion. He acknowledged that a
U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement "is not off the table" although
the timing is difficult due to the expiry of Trade Promotion
Authority legislation next year.
The bad news is
the "considerable concern among policymakers" in Washington over
Taiwan's failure to pass a robust defense budget to fund new
defense systems. Taiwan first called for these systems in the
1990s, and President Bush approved them in April 2001. In the
intervening five years, Taiwan's defenses have declined while "the
PRC's [People's Republic of China's] robust military modernization
process over the last decade. . .continues, and the gap between the
capabilities of the PRC and Taiwan grows."
brought a blunt message from the Bush Administration: Taiwan's
lawmakers "need" to pass a "robust defense budget" in the current
legislative session. The United States is not concerned about
specific systems but is concerned by the general malaise among
Taiwan's political parties concerning the island's
defenses. Taiwan's defenses are collapsing while China's are
expanding at breathtaking speed.
Unless the United
States and Taiwan can revive their defense cooperation, the next
U.S. president will have to "to take into account the views of the
PRC" when considering U.S. support for Taiwan's defense
modernization, Ambassador Young warned. "[T]he United States
wants to support Taiwan's defensive needs not because we want to
alienate you from your neighbor across the Taiwan Strait, but
because we believe a strong and self-confident Taiwan can hold
discussions on a variety of issues with China from a position of
strength and self-confidence," he said.
The refusal of
Taiwan's legislature to move ahead with the arms package is a
leading indicator of where Taiwan's politicians see Taiwan's
future. There is little sense in America's continued support
of Taiwan's defenses if Taiwan has no intention of using them to
deter attack by the Chinese. Washington is increasingly
alarmed that Taiwan's politicians-wittingly or unwittingly-are
shifting responsibility for their island's defense from Taipei to
Beijing, thus jeopardizing the integrity of U.S. defense technology
that has already been transferred to Taiwan.
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
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.
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.
What the Bush
Administration Should Do
- While continuing
to jawbone Taiwan's current defense acquisition package, the
Administration should respond to Taiwan's request for pricing and
acquisition data for the F-16C/D, follow-on to the F-16 A/B, on a
one-to-one replacement basis. That is, the pricing and
acquisition data should be per unit.
- The Pentagon must
consult with Taiwan on supplementing its "defensive strategy" with
weapons systems of a "limited offensive capacity" such as JDAMs,
cruise missiles, HARMs, and submarine-launched Harpoons.
- 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. These legislators must weigh their anti-defense
positions against the value of a continued security relationship
with the U.S.
What Taiwan Must
- The legislature
must pass the 2006 supplemental budget immediately via the
Procedures and Defense Committees, full funding for the
anti-submarine warfare systems (P-3 Orion aircraft), and funding of
Taiwan's submarine designs in the FY 2007 regular budget.
- The Ministry of
Defense must review the effect of the January 2006 decision to
curtail compulsory military service to 16 months on readiness and
public perceptions of defense needs.
- Taiwan must
examine its options for negotiating its future with China in the
absence of a robust defense capacity.
Needham is Director of, and John J. Tkacik, Jr., is
Senior Research Fellow in China Policy in, the Asian Studies Center
at The Heritage Foundation.