Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Talks Reflect Cooling Taiwan-U.S. Relations



Talks Reflect Cooling Taiwan-U.S. Relations


Taiwanese and U.S. officials recently wrapped up the latest edition of their annual top-level security and defense meetings under a dark cloud.

This year’s Monterey Talks, held June 28-29 at Quantico, Va., covered Taiwan’s offensive ballistic missile program, future arms sales, training programs, security arrangements and the stalled plan to accept a five-year-old U.S. offer to sell weapons. The talks are so sensitive that there is a complete media blackout, and no official recognition is made either by Taiwan or the United States that the meeting actually occurred.

But observers say the secretive talks went poorly, reflecting a slide in U.S.-Taiwan relations and adding to the signs that Washington is drawing away from Taipei to woo Beijing.

“These days, some have described the content and substance of the defense and security dialogue as stale,” said one former Pentagon official with intimate knowledge of the talks. “In what in effect is a very serious issue, some have asserted that the level of interest in Taiwan has diminished in a major way just over the last year. Some in DoD have been said to have written off Taiwan in its longer-term planning in dealing with China as a strategic competitor.”

Observers point to the recent visit to China by U.S. Pacific Command’s Adm. William Fallon, and a visit by a Chinese delegation to watch the Valiant Shield exercises at Guam in June.

They also note ongoing criticism by Pentagon and State Department officials over Taiwan’s reluctance to accept the Bush administration’s 2001 offer to sell eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3 maritime patrol aircraft and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-missile system.


These talks, first held in Monterey, Calif., in 1997, have served as the highest-level annual meeting for senior U.S. and Taiwanese officials.

The Taiwanese delegation is led by senior defense or National Security Council (NSC) officials — this year, by NSC Deputy Secretary-General Michael Tsai. The U.S. side is run by a senior Pentagon official, leading a team of State Department and U.S. National Security Council representatives.

“The Monterey was originally designed to be a strategic-level bilateral dialogue that senior officials from both national security teams can share their views on regional security assessments, threat perceptions, and to the best concerted action items,” said Alexander Huang, a senior associate of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies who lives in Taipei, and who helped create the Monterey Talks.

Arms sales talks generally are handled at a lower level. Between 1982 and 2001, they were addressed in the U.S.-Taiwan Arms Sales Talks. Taipei would present a list of desired weapons to Washington, which would review the request for three to four months and deliver its decisions in meetings with senior Taiwanese defense authorities each spring.

In 2001, the United States and Taiwan normalized their security assistance relationship, allowing Taipei, like other U.S. partners, to submit requests at any time during the year. The Arms Sales Talks ended, to be replaced by Security Cooperation Talks.

But since then, some observers have complained that U.S. officials have not responded as well to Taiwanese requests. For example, Washington deferred a decision to allow Taiwan to buy Aegis-equipped destroyers in April 2001, but with the change in the format of arms sales requests, that request was never answered.

“Taiwan’s value to DoD has been based on the amount it is buying from the United States, and not on other metrics, such as its democratic development, its contributions to the global war on terrorism — Taiwan has done a lot that has never been reported — or its strategic role in the global information technology supply chain,” said the former U.S. government official.

But others say the Monterey Talks should not become the place to discuss individual arms sales.

“I do not have the impression that this meeting would be transformed into a one-way-street type of request and response,” Huang said. “The very purpose of the Monterey was to go beyond the Hwa-Mei Arms Talks practice.

“I’ve even advocated the idea of ‘Monterey plus’ to quietly include officials from other regional democracies,” Huang said. “From how to jointly accommodate China’s rise, to energy SLOC [sea lines of communication] security, to the exclusion of Washington and Taipei in some regional groupings, to S&R [search and rescue] missions in fishing dispute and disaster relief — there are lots of issues of mutual concern. The Monterey is too important to be affected by the LOR [letter of request]-type of issues.”