Thursday, October 8, 2009

In U.S., Calls for a Taiwan Policy Review

Defense News


In U.S., Calls for a Taiwan Policy Review

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — The dramatic shifts in China-Taiwan relations are drawing calls in Washington for a review of policy toward the self-governing island, with warnings that the United States might face issues not considered since the 1979 switch of diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing.

Dennis Wilder, former senior director for East Asian affairs, U.S. National Security Council, believes a review is “prudent” for the Obama administration, which should begin by “assessing just how profound the changes are that have occurred and how those changes affect U.S. national security interests in the region.”

Wilder and others note changes in cross­strait relations and internal politics. China has become a major military and economic power, and Taiwan has shed dictatorial rule to become a thriving democracy.

Cross-strait negotiations, stalled since 1998, have progressed quickly in the 14 months since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) defeated the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during presidential and legislative elections. In November, China and Taiwan signed 13 agreements, including a formal end to the 1949 ban on direct travel.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Hu Jintao have discussed military confidence-building measures and a possible peace treaty; Hu’s came in his annual New Year’s Eve speech.

China and Taiwan are now working on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. The exact details of the framework are unclear, and there are fears China will gain control of Taiwan’s telecommunications and financial institutions.

The United States has not “directly addressed changing realities of power and influence regarding Taiwan” and the “ever­growing and deepening Chinese influence over Taiwan,” said Robert Sutter, who worked for both the State Department and CIA while specializing in Asian affairs and is now with Georgetown University in Washington.

Sutter helped kick off the current discussions with his article in the March 5 PacNet Newsletter. 

Chinese military influence means that the longstanding U.S. policy of maintaining a balance of power across the strait is “no longer viable in the face of ever-increasing Chinese influence over Taiwan,” Sutter said.

Wilder, who left the National Security Council in January and is now with the Brookings Institution, said one key question is: “How do we put the people in Taiwan in the strongest position to negotiate cross-strait relations with the mainland?”

Ma says Taiwan needs more U.S. arms, according to Wilder. “We should take such requests very seriously and work closely with the Taiwan defense establishment to meet the needs,” Wilder said.

Taiwan has made repeated requests for new F-16 fighter jets, Black Hawk helicopters and submarines, and is now preparing a request for six C-27J Spartan transport planes.

Wilder said U.S. officials should ultimately renew a commitment to Taiwan’s democracy and continued military assistance. The United States should “dispel any notion that the global financial crisis or other U.S.-China issues will lead us to conclude that Taiwan is not a U.S. priority in East Asia.”

Any failure to support Taiwan would “send a highly negative signal to America’s other allies and friends in East Asia,” he said.

Not everyone believes a policy review is necessary.

“The general sentiment is that U.S. policy toward cross-strait relations has served U.S. interests well and does not need to be modified as a result of improvements in Taiwan­mainland ties or other developments,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China and Taiwan specialist at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I do not know of anyone in the Obama administration who is pressing for a review. There are many other priorities, and there is no crisis in cross-strait relations.

“On the contrary, the reduction of tensions is very welcome, as is the ability of Beijing and Taipei to work out new arrangements such as Taiwan’s observership for the May World Health Assembly meeting,” Glaser said.