Saturday, October 3, 2009

KMT Win Poses U.S.-Taiwan Challenges



KMT Win Poses U.S.-Taiwan Challenges; Island Weighs Peace Accord, Better Relations With China


TAIPEI — The Pentagon will face tough questions after landslide vic­tories in the legislative and presi­dential polls gave the Beijing-friend­ly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) total executive and legislative con­trol of Taiwan. The KMT wants to establish direct air flights, confi­dence-building measures and a peace accord with China.

KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou, who defeated Frank Hsieh of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on March 22, will renew ef­forts to move Taiwan closer to Chi­na. This will reshape Taiwan’s rela­tionship with Washington and force a U.S. rethink on strategy: Should it continue selling U.S. arms to Tai­wan when the KMT plans to sign a peace agreement with China, a country many in the U.S. defense community believe is a strategic competitor?

“It’s not difficult to imagine why many friends in the defense com­munity are concerned over the im­pact of a peace process on U.S.-Tai­wan mil-mil relations in general and on defense procurement in particu­lar,” said Alexander Huang, a senior associate of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Interna­tional Studies, who lives in Taipei. “I am quite sure that Ma understands both issues require extensive nego­tiations with Beijing, and negotia­tions must be from a position of strength.”

A peace accord with China will hinge on Beijing agreeing to dis­mantle the approximately 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. In response, sources be­lieve Beijing will demand Ma limit procurement of U.S. arms.

The foundation for closer rela­tions was laid in 2005, when KMT Chairman Lien Chan and James Soong, the People’s First Party chairman, flew to Beijing to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao. Com­muniqu├ęs were signed agreeing to a future peace accord. Critics accuse them of signing a secret accord for reunification upon a KMT return to power.

Progress on improved Taipei-Bei­jing relations is expected to be swift.

“There will be no more gridlock within the KMT in both the legisla­ture and executive branches,” said Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford Uni­versity.

He and several other experts spoke March 23 at a New Taiwanese Cultural Foundation (NTCF) conference, “Assessing the Meanings and Implications of the March 22 Presidential Election.” Douglas Paal, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy, said Ma’s win will greatly enhance relations across the Taiwan Strait.

“The first step was taken yester­day [March 22],” he said at the NTCF event. “The second step is for China to move to build a better re­lationship. This is too good to miss for China. It is no longer a zero-sum game, but a positive sum game that things will improve.”

At the same conference, Michael Swaine, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for Interna­tional Peace, Washington, said Ma will face challenges on how far to open up with China.

“There are some real fears and anxieties on the issue of the peace accord,” he said. “How soon should the peace accord go forward?” Swaine said Ma has to pursue a strong military to keep China from attacking, but must also control el­ements within his own party who want to forgo U.S. arms sales to pla­cate China.

Over the next five years, Taiwan’s military plans to procure a variety of new U.S. arms: F-16 fighter jets, M1 Abrams main battle tanks, Aegis-equipped destroyers and diesel submarines. Ma has called for a defense budget increase to 3 per­cent of gross domestic product, from about 2.5 percent currently, and requests for more advanced U.S.-built arms are expected to rise. However, arms sales could cause problems with cross-Strait relations and Ma might choose to avoid an­gering Beijing, Alan Romberg, sen­ior associate at the Stimson Center, Washington, said at the NTCF con­ference.

Arthur Ding, a cross-Strait military affairs expert at the National Chengchi University’s Institute of In­ternational Relations here, said a peace agreement with Taiwan would cause problems with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), “because the PLA will have to rede­fine its role and mission. If the PLA continues upholding its traditional liberation role against Taiwan, Ma will have a rationale for requesting arms sales from the U.S. So, the ball is actually in China’s court.”

“The real source of cross-Strait tension is distrust between leaders on both sides,” Huang said.

“Concil­iatory policy measures toward Chi­na may be seen as problematic, but tension works to no one’s interests, either. What Taiwan needs is to be smart enough to play a two-hand strategy, engaging political dia­logues with China while enhancing security links with the U.S. The re­maining question, then, is how smart the next government is and whether it can put the right person­nel in the right positions, and make sure they work together well.”

Despite Ma’s promise not to en­gage in unification talks during his tenure, many in Taiwan say eventual unification is now unstop­pable.

Michael H.H. Hsiao, executive di­rector of the Taiwan-based Center for Asia Pacific Area Studies, Acad­emia Sinica, believes China will do nothing until 2009, when Beijing will increase pressure on the KMT.

The critical window will be 2010-­12, when Taiwan will have to make a decision, he said March 24 at a conference here, “Taiwan Forum: 2008 Presidential Election: Impacts and Implications.”

Beijing was enraged by DPP at­tempts to establish formal inde­pendence over the past eight years. Demoralized, the DPP will have to bide its time until the next election, but many say 2012 will be too late to stop unification momentum.

“Beijing’s fear of de jure inde­pendence is over,” said Lo Chih-­cheng of the Taiwan Thinktank, which sponsored the March 24 con­ference. “Beijing’s next goal will be de jure unification within the next five years.” However, agreements with Beijing may not come quickly.

Beijing moves at a lumbering pace and can’t turn on a dime,” Paal said at the NTCF conference.

Direct Flights

Though a peace accord with Chi­na could dampen arguments for U.S. arms, direct flights could be the death knell.

Ma is proposing launching a “cross-Strait transportation line” with weekend charter flights as ear­ly as July, with 3,000 Chinese visi­tors a week and increasing to 3,000 a day within a year. Charter flights now are allowed only during four annual holidays; travelers between Taiwan and China at other times must transit via Hong Kong or Japan.

Taiwan has a relatively small pop­ulation of 23 million, and some fear direct flights would lead to a human flood of mainland Chinese who would eventually dominate Taiwan’s economy, politics and society.

Citing the level of corruption in Taiwan, one U.S. source predicted China’s influence over Taiwan’s government will increase, and that China’s ability to insert intelligence agents will skyrocket.

Lin Chong-Pin, former Taiwan deputy minister of defense, argues that the influence of the Chinese vis­itors will work two ways: Taiwan’s economic dependence on China, which is “already growing fast, will rise further, social integration across the Strait will accelerate, Taipei’s political ties with Washing­ton will slowly weaken.”

Beijing’s reliance on military force to achieve reunification, he said, will “slide in priority and give way to extra-military instruments such as socio-economic integration and political influence.” Lin, now president of the Foun­dation on International and Cross­Strait Studies, said the interchange also will “sow the seeds of democ­racy” in China.