Taiwan’s Military Faces an Uncertain Future
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — The Bush administration has let pass the deadline for releasing an $11 billion Taiwanese arms deal to Congress. That pushes the decision off to the next president, who takes office in January — and could mean an end to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, said John Tkacik, a former U.S. State Department official once stationed in both China and Taiwan.
“The Chinese will pocket the Bush administration’s Taiwan arms halt as the baseline for approaching the next administration,” said Tkacik, now with the Heritage Foundation. “Beijing will make it very painful for the next administration to restart arms supplies to Taiwan, insisting that doing so would renege on Bush commitments, imaginary or otherwise.”
The package has been held up since December. It includes items promised by the Bush administration in 2001, plus newer items such as attack and utility helicopters.
“All in all, Taiwan policy is in complete tatters,” said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president, U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. “The administration is blatantly gaming the system in a manner that runs contrary to U.S.-Taiwan interests.
“There are simply no other examples of a non-NATO or other security relationship having its congressional notifications stacked at [the U.S. Department of] State in this manner. They are doing so over a zerosum attitude toward U.S.-China-Taiwan relations and the equities Mr. Bush believes will be hurt by following through on his 2001 commitment.”
Hammond-Chambers said Bush’s decision to stall on the release runs contrary to the U.S. Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the United States to provide arms to Taiwan.
“In addition, it looks likely that they’re going to thumb their noses at submission of the congressional notifications while Congress is in session and go for an out-of-session submission by the end of this year.”
The package includes 30 AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, six Patriot PAC-3 air-defense missile batteries, a feasibility design study for eight diesel-electric submarines and sub-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Not included on the list of notifications is a letter of request, now denied by U.S. officials for more than a year, for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters worth $5.5 billion.
Much of Bush’s original 2001 offer has been released, including 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and an upgrade for Taiwan’s Patriot PAC-2 missile defense batteries in 2007; or actually delivered, including AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles and Kidd-class destroyers.
Much of the blame can be placed on Taiwan itself. Over the past eight years, the legislature, controlled by the Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People’s First Party blocked the arms budget in an effort to encumber the administration of President Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The arms budget was delayed until 2007, when the legislature finally passed two defense budgets totaling $19.4 billion for P-3C Orion aircraft, the PAC-2 upgrade, new PAC3 systems and a submarine design study.
However, now with the return of the KMT to power, a new stumbling block has emerged. President Ma Ying-jeou has moved quickly since the election to improve relations with China.
Real questions about the future have yet to be answered. Will China reciprocate Taiwan’s peace overtures by reducing the roughly 1,300 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan and reduce the number of fighter and naval patrols along the centerline of the Taiwan Strait? Will China move forward on CBMs and a peace accord with Taiwan? Sources believe China will not modify its military posture until the 2012 presidential elections in Taiwan, when the DPP could return to power.
“Taiwan will see little option but to accept whatever goodwill China may proffer, on missiles, on cross-strait links, on Taiwan’s international space,” Tkacik said.
“In essence, the Bush administration’s decision to halt arms supplies to Taiwan would effectively transfer responsibility for Taiwan’s security to Beijing. That will be a fine legacy for the Bush administration to leave for Asia.”
Ma has the difficult act of placating both Beijing and Washington. Ma needs to negotiate with China from a position of strength, but ironically as relations improve, requirements for new arms decreases, said Wu Yu-Shan, political analyst at Academia Sinica, based here.
“What Ma wants is a little bit of everything: sending goodwill signals to Beijing, assuring Washington that he is not leaning one-sidedly toward the mainland, buying weapons from the U.S., some but not all weapons so as to satisfy both Washington and Beijing, and suggesting to people in Taiwan that even though he is improving ties with the mainland, he will not betray Taiwan’s interests,” Wu said.