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Monday March 7th 2011
America’s security commitment to Taiwan
From keystone to millstone?
Mar 3rd 2011, 9:55 by Banyan
IN MY column in the print edition I argued that the huge improvement in relations between Taiwan and China since 2008 does not seem to have led to any new enthusiasm in Taiwan for political union with the mainland. The hope, I wrote, is that China’s leaders will “enjoy the smoother relations and not ask where they are leading.”
That of course is also very much the hope in official circles in Washington. China has never renounced its threat to use force to “reunify” Taiwan one day, and America has strong—if vague—commitments to Taiwan’s security. The island was once its “unsinkable aircraft-carrier” and a keystone of its security strategy in the western Pacific. That all changed as America switched recognition to China in 1979.
However, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, passed just after it opened diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, obliges America “to consider any means to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means…a threat to the peace and security of the western Pacific and of grave concern to the United States.”
Two different sorts of questions have recently been raised about that and other promises contained in the TRA. A commentary published on March 1st by Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, a lobbying group, claims that “the American defence commitment to Taiwan continues to deteriorate.” As evidence it points to the delays in American approval of further arms sales to Taiwan. In particular, America is yet to agree to provide new fighter jets (F-16 C/Ds), as well as to upgrade Taiwan’s existing “Indigenous Defence Fighters” and American F-16 A/Bs.
American arms sales to Taiwan are of course an extremely sensitive issue in US-China relations. Despite a TRA commitment “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character”, America in 1982 issued its third “joint communiqué” with China. It said it “intends gradually to reduce its sales of arms to Taiwan.” So whenever new sales are made—as they were a year ago to the tune of more than $6 billion, China bridles. On that occasion it suspended high-level military contacts until January this year. 
Yet the 2010 package was in fact part of a promise originally made by George W. Bush in 2001. Mr Hammond-Chambers and a number of analysts in Taiwan argue that Taiwan’s air defences are becoming dangerously aged, while China continues to expand and modernise its forces and weapons, including those pointing at Taiwan.
Officials in Taiwan say they were pleased that, when China’s president, Hu Jintao, was in America in January, Barack Obama referred to the TRA at a press conference. They are always listening keenly to hear which is given greater prominence—the 1982 communiqué, or the TRA and the “six assurances” America gave Taiwan about arms sales in 1982.
There is a debate in Taiwan, too, about whether the F-16 C/Ds are really necessary and desirable, given the friction their sale might cause. Some argue that the appeal for new fighter jets is part of the government’s effort not to appear soft towards China, and that a delay suits it quite well.
What would certainly not suit it is the argument made (behind a pay wall) in Foreign Affairs, an American policy journal, by Charles Glaser, a specialist in international relations. Exploring ways in which America can negotiate China’s rise without conflict, Mr Glaser points out that a crisis over Taiwan could “fairly easily escalate to nuclear war”. So America “should consider backing away from its commitment to Taiwan”. This would “smooth the way for better relations” with China.
He acknowledges the risks of such a strategy. First would be the loss of American credibility entailed in abandoning a long-standing ally that is now a vibrant democracy to a Communist claimant its people show little sympathy for. Second, China might find “its appetite whetted” for further concessions. However, he argues “territorial concessions” (an odd phrase since Taiwan is not America’s to concede) “are not always bound to fail.”
The fear in Taiwan is that, though such arguments are far from official American policy, they are gaining currency. But ever since 1979, American policy over Taiwan has been an exercise in calculated or accidental ambiguity. China has had to believe that America would intervene if it tried to take Taiwan by force. But America has had to leave just enough doubt about its intentions that Taiwan is not emboldened into a rash move that might provoke China into giving up on “peaceful reunification”. Mr Glaser may be helping those, like Mr Hammond-Chambers, who argue that those doubts are now too big.
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Mar 3rd 2011 4:01 GMT
Taiwan (so as Japan and South Korea to a lesser or much lesser extent) is merely an expendable piece in the US global chess game. It is a cheap sub-contractor of US hi-tech products, a dumpster of outdated yet ridiculously overpriced US weaponry and a bargaining chip for the US to negotiate better deals with mainland China.
Only fools will believe the US will get involved militarily if mainland China is to take Taiwan by force. After all, it’s now 2011, not 1990s.
Hey, the US doesn’t even dare to launch an attack on Iran or North Korea, why would it dare to militarily counter mainland China?
As to the worries of loss of American credibility entailed in abandoning a long-standing ally, didn’t the US just dump Mubarak?
But the main point here is, mainland China doesn’t have to bring down Taiwan by military force, it can always do so by economic means.
nopolicy wrote:
Mar 3rd 2011 4:07 GMT
Mar 3rd 2011 8:32 GMT
The stakes are very simple. China has complete political will to reunify with Taiwan, at almost all costs. Just like the Northern States of the US went to war to prevent the secession of the Confederacy, China, in a final face-off of force over Taiwan's destiny, will have no hesitation in putting her chips "all in".
And China's ability to absorb punishment is tremendous. If I may be brutally blunt, heck, they probably may have calculated that they are willing to lose one person for every person in Taiwan - up to 23 million people - in order to reunify! Are the Americans willing to face up to and take a high level of punishment and casualties in the event of a conventional "all-in" war with China over Taiwan?
In short, the reunification of Taiwan with China is nothing more but an eventuality. Whether it be in 10 years time, 50 years or 100 years, it will happen. The Chinese have time on their side, and in war, time is the greatest leverage of them all. Right now, the Chinese may only have enough firepower to take out one or two American carriers in a Taiwan war, but in 20 years, maybe even 30 years, it could probably mass enough armament to sink every ship in all 12 (15?) American carrier fleets. When that time comes, the entire ballgame will be completely different.
Therefore, the US strategy of playing for time, perfectly plays into China's hands, and completely erodes the Taiwanese independence position.
Just like the Confederacy finally reUnited with the United States, the two Chinas will eventually become one again.
Hibro wrote:
Mar 3rd 2011 11:14 GMT
Unification in whatever form, if ever, takes two to tango.
So it also has to include the consensus of the people of Taiwan.
grg1203 wrote:
Mar 3rd 2011 11:16 GMT
It must be noted the developments of the proposed arms sales package from President Bush early in his administration, and the KMT's subsequent actions---voting it down over 60 times in the Taiwan legislature.
Numerous United States representatives pressed the KMT to take action, only to be to rebuffed. Current president Ma then referred to it as "fools money," and during a trip to the states he refused to discuss the matter with Washington.
Former AIT head Steven Young in 2006 publically note this in his October briefing, only to be rounding blown off by the KMT. With one KMT legislator even remarking that the USA would never let Tawian be taken over by China becuase Taiwan was too improtant.
In those eight years the USA/China relationship--for better or worse--has changed dramatically. I feel that the United States is now using an "ignore it and it will go away approach" with Taiwan. Because, also "for better or worse" the relationship with Taiwan has changed. Taiwan is now a "flyover." Not a destination.
Can the US count on Taiwan? Impossible.
Would the American public support intervention if need to help Taiwan against China? Impossible.
How do you ask China to finance a war against China. And when the American public gets a quick history lesson-- it's all over.
Everyday here the papers discuss the growing trade, tourism, and overall integration between the island and the mainland. China is doing what it has to do. It won't war with Taiwan, it will buy it. Every university here needs Chinese students, every county want's Chinese business, every Taiwan business in in someway working in and with China, and every politician wants a China payoff.
President Ma is weak, and Taiwan is populated by a citizenry with the same moral values that lost the mainland. Both the US and China know it. And China knows that it can take Taiwan by means previously noted.
Finally, Taiwan really doesn't want the F-16's. It wants commitment from the US to fight for it.
Taiwan's military is a mess. General's selling out, retired General's living in China, a fighting force not wanting to fight for an obviously losing cause, missile tests that turn into debacles, and woefully inadequate military funding.
And don't forget, Taiwan is running a budget deficit.
The Chinese people really only care about one thing--themselves. This is very important. Because the moral values here just don't support what it takes to live in a free and open society. Freedom is a measure of responsibility--to oneself, to others, and to country. And by this measure, both sides of the Taiwan Strait are very similar.
And everyone on the island is more that willing to sell out for a piece of the China action. And when China has enough of the action---game over.
Mar 4th 2011 12:40 GMT
Quote: “...Unification in whatever form, if ever, takes two to tango. So it also has to include the consensus of the people of Taiwan...”
So, do the people of Taiwan have consensus to take back Diaoyutai Islands from Japanese hands?
As a person who opt for Taiwan independence, it seems that you (as indicated from your past comments) are very comfortable that the Japanese are illegally occupying them.
Hibro wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 1:46 GMT
@ Pacific Century
What you think is legal/illegal is not necessarily what everyone else thinks.
And read my post carefully.
I'm talking about MUTUAL consensus.
Whether A wants to give to B, or B wants to give to A,
my opinion doesn't matter if BOTH sides of a dispute agree to settle peacefully.
tocharian wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 2:09 GMT
Well it's not impossible that the reluctance of the US to send the latest weaponry to Taiwan is perhaps based on the US "apprehension" of more "military-technology transfer" to mainland China. I don't know for sure but I can sense that Taiwan could be an active hub for industrial and military espionage between China (PRC), Taiwan and the USA. I'm just speculating!
Mar 4th 2011 2:39 GMT
Quote: "...What you think is legal/illegal is not necessarily what everyone else thinks...my opinion doesn't matter if BOTH sides of a dispute agree to settle peacefully..."
Do you agree the Diaoyutai islands are part of Taiwanese territory? If so, doesn’t that make it “illegal” for Japan to occupy them?  
And the problem is Japan doesn’t seem to prefer settling this dispute peacefully.  
Doesn’t the Japanese Coast Guard constantly harass and detain Taiwanese fishing vessels fishing there? Gee, they even sank a Taiwanese fishing boat in 2008! 
My point is, if you (just assume that you are Taiwanese) are content with Japan’s illegal occupation of the Diaoyutai islands (a sovereignty issue), how can you expect others to take you seriously for the quest of Taiwan independence (another sovereignty issue)?
Hibro wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 2:54 GMT
@ Pacific Century
You're asking about an off-topic which I already discussed ad nauseum elsewhere and don't want to discuss further for now.
You are entitled to your opinion and my opinion should not matter that much to you either.
Look for another sparring partner ;-)
Mar 4th 2011 3:37 GMT
@ Hibro 
That's why I said you are Japanese in my other post. Well, or at least a Japanese wannabe who places Japanese interests before Taiwan's. 
*Sorry, moderator. I am a bit off topic here. I won’t do that again.
Hibro wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 4:19 GMT
@ Pacific Century
I'm a third-party commenter, with no nationalistic interest.
Maybe you always stick to one side out of loyalty,
and you think your side is always right, and others are wrong.
I'll also stop here.
Mar 4th 2011 10:09 GMT
We are living in a world where only the rich can survive. The economy has been the single most important issue for the Communists for the past 3 decades. So guys, relax. There won't be any war. China will get whatever it wants with the most advanced weapon in the world, AKA money.
Vanbrugh wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 10:52 GMT
I find it deeply disturbing that some posters here think that forceful unification by military means is somehow acceptable.
Mar 4th 2011 11:25 GMT
Too bad. It is not a matter of whether the posters find forceful reunification acceptable or not. It is a matter of reality, realpolitik. When America and Britain invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, they didn't bother to seek the opinions of the citizens of those countries, or even our opinions. Similarly, our opinions will not matter to China if their people as a whole are wholly committed to reunification with Taiwan, whatever the form. The best is to hope that the Chinese and Taiwanese leaders continue their current form of pragmatism, and to make peaceful unification the eventuality, not forceful reunification.
Mar 4th 2011 3:06 GMT
Well the United States certainly didn't rule out using military force when the North set out to unite with the South.
Also, the use of military force by mainland China is the ultimate last resort. You really believe the mainland wants to unite with guns blazing? This isn't the United States, which was trigger happy when it came to Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The US can get away with killing thousands but if one person gets injured in the cross strait conflict then this would be labeled "Chinese aggression". It will seek diplomatic and political means because it is more acceptable and more powerful force of union.
Mar 4th 2011 4:02 GMT
China is not going to take it by force. Just as the US wont throw down over a cold war ally when there's no cold war, China isn't going to attack a whole bunch of people who are Chinese in the minds of their own citizenry. They can't justify it as some sort of "liberation of the masses" even the Chinese nationalists know that the people in Taiwan enjoy a higher standard of living then they do. They can't use the ideology of Taiwan being underdeveloped like they do in Tibet or Xinjiang. So that only leaves them with the "one China" justification. They know that a shooting war with Taiwan would involve killing thousands of Chinese people who are literate, have the internet, and will post videos on Youku and Baidu. The economic disruption would be huge as well. A shooting war with Taiwan is impractical and economically disruptive, the CCP for all their bluster about the issue, know that.
Worst case scenario China uses the threat of force to pressure Taiwan into formally accepting the mainland's sovereignty. Taiwanese politicians in the subsequent negotiations accept under the conditions of a Hong Kong like one country, two systems deal. The actual day to day life within Taiwan changes very little. The PRC wins the symbolic act of reunifying the country, Taiwan gets to keep it's much better democracy minus foreign policy intact. It's tragic but both the Chinese and Taiwanese politicians would prefer it to a war.
People have to realize that there is very little difference ideologically between the KMT in the late 70's/early 80's and the current Chinese government. For all the talk of doom and gloom about the inevitability Chinese takeover in 10, 20, 50 or 100 years, there's been little recognition that any future mainland government will almost certainly be a lot more liberal, dare I say it, even democratic than the one now.
Mar 4th 2011 5:42 GMT
In 1979, Mao's body was not quite cold, and Brezhnev's steely hand presided over the USSR. Even India was nonaligned and wary of the West. Asia then was a huge reddish ocean, and the strategic importance of a KMT controlled Taiwan was magnified tenfold. The TRA acknowledged that reality in an unprecedented act of congress.
But that was over thirty years ago. The cold war has ended and took with it Taiwan's inflated strategic significance. And old static acts of congress should not supplant the State Department and should not prescribe a fourth decade of top level foreign policy. The TRA now looks not only dated, but fossilized.
ouyoumei wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 5:44 GMT
Since the founding of the Republic of China, the KMT have two ideollogical aims, Chinese nationalism and democracy. Whereas democracy strikes accord with America and the west in general, apparently CCP is rather pessimistic about social change. Nationalism in general refers to Chinese nationalism, but this ideology remains afloat now as KMT have its own domestic politics to deal with. Chinese nationalism of course synthesize with mainland China, and the west can't care less about it.
China threat theorists evoke two things 1) The prospect for ultranationalism 2) Totalitarianism.
American conservatives, such as George Bush, buys the arguement "democracy do not wage war on democracy." Thus, if PRC takes steps to forward social change towards democracy, presumably, foreseable conflicts will to be nullified.
So the swings of these factors causes ambiguity for American policies towards Taiwan. And Taiwan, since its abstention from UN, have being balancing these two factors in order to maximize its ideological aim, Chinese nationalism and democracy. Both America and China only cares for one but not the other. It's probably difficult for people to understand KMT's hard sacrifices, long-term vision of peace, virtue and unassalibility, as nowadays diplomacy is rooted on pragmatism rather than ideology. And when exactly did pragmatism became more important than ideology? Around the time when Kessinger visited China, and ROC was booted out the UN. Taiwan should really be regarded as a moral power on par with the Vatican and the Tibetan Exiles, and taking its rightful place in the UN as permanent member of the security council.
lpc1998 wrote:
Mar 4th 2011 5:45 GMT
After more than 60 years of US interference in the Chinese Civil War ever since the civil war broke out years before 1949, it is high time for the sake of the Chinese, American, Australian (the Australians want to die with Americans, if need be) and other peoples of world, that the US should phrase out her such interference speedily, but orderly basing on the Hong Kong Model of one-country-two-system. One more Taiwan crisis could be one too many. The Chinese, like any other people in the world including the Americans, will fight to defend the territorial integrity of their country and Taiwan is Chinese territory:
"Q10. Washington Post: President Ma (Ying-jeou), you recently said that Taiwanese should not call China by any other name but "the mainland" or "the other side of the strait." What do you hope to accomplish by that name change?
President Ma: Actually, what I said originally differs from what you just described. What I said was that the government in its official documents should refer to mainland China as "mainland China," "the mainland" or "the mainland area" rather than as "China." Why? Because the ROC Constitution defines mainland China to be the "mainland area of the Republic of China." As public officials, therefore, we must draft our official documents in accordance with the law. We have not required that people outside the government follow this convention.
This distinction between the Taiwan area and the mainland area was already established in the Constitution 20 years ago when we amended it. For us, this is a very important distinction. As president, I must follow our Constitution and must also ask our public servants to do the same when conducting official matters. I believe some people in the private sector also use this kind of name differentiation, but I only request our public servants to follow this usage in the context of conducting public affairs.
In fact, this terminology was set 20 years ago; former President Lee Teng-hui and the subsequent Democratic Progressive Party administration during its eight years in office did not change it. ….."
For those who are still unfamiliar with China’s current dual representations:
China (ROC) = China as represented by the Republic of China Government, established since 01 January 1912. The Government of China (ROC) was recognized by the UN and the international community as the sole legitimate government of all China until 25 October 1971 when the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek were expelled from the UN and its organizations by Resolution 2758. It is the government in effective control of the Taiwan Region of China and is also known as the Taipei Government. So the assertions that Taiwan split from China in 1949 following the defeat of the Kuomintang on the Mainland or that Taiwan is an independent country are mythologies.
China (PRC) = China as represented by the People’s Republic of China Government, established since 01 October 1949 and has existed concurrently with China (ROC). The Government of China (PRC) was recognized by the UN and the international community as the sole legitimate government of all China since 25 October 1971 when the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek were expelled from the UN and its organizations by Resolution 2758. It is the government in effective control of the Mainland Region of China and is also known as the Beijing Government.
Both the Beijing and Taipei Governments are Chinese governments in control of 2 regions of China in an ongoing civil war.
Both Chinese governments uphold the "One China Policy or Principle": "that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China". The international community, without any exception, also uphold the "One China Policy or Principle" in support of the position of the two Chinese governments.
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