Monday, October 5, 2009

Taiwan Mulls Military Ties With China

Defense News


Taiwan Mulls Military Ties With China

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) is in the preliminary planning stages of possible military-to-military contacts with its longtime enemy, China.

“We are planning for the future,” a Taiwan military official said, and confirmed recent public comments made by Defense Minister Chen Chao-min that military-to­military contacts would help reduce tensions.

The official said contacts could begin at the junior level and later be expanded, but true military-to­military cooperation and exchanges appear distant with economic and political agreements to come first. Improved military relations are a “very long way off in the future.”

“There is recognition on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait of the need to establish contacts between the two militaries and implement military CBMs [confidence-building measures],” said Bonnie Glaser, China-Taiwan and CBM specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington.

“I view the statement by MND as a signal to both the mainland and to the people of Taiwan, which need to be prepared for this eventuality.”

In both the 2002 and 2004 defense white papers, the Taiwan military “has done a considerable amount of thinking and research on cross-Strait military CBMs.

Exchanges of retired military officers followed by exchanges of active­duty officers would be a reasonable and important step to enhance understanding between the two militaries, which have been estranged for more than 60 years,” Glaser said.

However, this type of public admission by a minister of defense is relatively unheard of within Taiwan’s conservative military community.

The United States just released a $6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan that enraged China. The arms sale comes at a time of increased diplomatic activity across the Taiwan Strait, with new agreements on direct flights, direct shipping and possible investment opportunities for China in Taiwan. There are also discussions on establishing a joint oil exploration deal in the Taiwan Strait.

There is already a strong connection between Beijing and Taipei. According to an Oct. 27 news release issued by Taiwan’s Government Information Office (GIO), trade volume with China has jumped from $45.7 billion in 2000 to $130.2 billion in 2007.

Exports to China accounted for 40.7 percent of all Taiwan exports in 2007 and the “accumulated investment in mainland China grew from $17.1 billion in 2000 to $64.9 billion in 2007,” the GIO said in the release.

“Estimates put the total amount of Taiwan’s informal investments in mainland China at $100 billion to $150 billion.”

“Although expansion of economic exchanges and cooperation is the first priority, leaders in Taiwan and the mainland have called for signing a peace accord and ending hostility across the Taiwan Strait,” Glaser said.

“Promoting dialogue and exchanges between militaries will be a necessary part of this process.”

Taiwan’s Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) swept both legislative and presidential elections earlier this year. The new president, Ma Ying-jeou, favors improved relations with China. Since his inauguration in May, negotiations and agreements have been swift. Ma has also proposed establishing CBMs and signing a peace accord with China.

The first talks between Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and Chen Yunlin, chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, occurred in Beijing in June.

A 60-member Chinese delegation led by Chen is scheduled to come to Taiwan on Nov. 3 for the second Chiang-Chen talks.

According to a GIO news release, the five-day meeting “symbolizes ... a turning point in the development of cross­Strait relations.”

There have been accusations from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party that the KMT is selling Taiwan out to China, but U.S. government officials here and in Washington have expressed approval for warmer relations.

Upcoming negotiations will include expanding cross-Strait air flights, shipping links and direct mail exchanges.

“Agreements are expected to be signed during the talks,” the GIO release said.

Political agreements will not be discussed and are not expected to be an issue in the near future.

Still, there appear to be bumps in the road. Taiwan’s military opposes proposals to open direct flight routes through the R8 restricted airspace in the northern Taiwan Strait. The area is one of five military-controlled airspace sectors. Lifting the restrictions would lower air defense response time and allow Chinese fighters and bombers to strike Taiwan in 10 minutes.

“We will not allow any charter flights to fly through this area,” Defense Minister Chen said.