Thursday, October 8, 2009

U.S. NSC Reviewing Taiwan Issues

Defense News


U.S. NSC Reviewing Taiwan Issues

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI - The U.S. National Security Council (NSC) is conducting a review of U.S. defense programs for Taiwan amid great recent changes in China-Taiwan relations, said sources in Taipei and Washington.

A Taiwan defense official said the NSC is conducting an overall review of U.S. policy on Taiwan, but a U.S. government source would only confirm that the "administration is working on decisions for various [Taiwan] defense programs still on the books, but not on a Taiwan policy review."

Programs under review include the release of 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters and 66 Lockheed F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters the United States has on hold. Taiwan has been pushing hard for the release to replace ageing Bell UH-1 utility helicopters and Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters.

There are still calls for a policy review that first emerged in April in Washington policy circles. The recent shift in China-Taiwan relations has placed the Obama administration in an awkward position of trying to improve ties with China while supporting Taiwan's defense needs.

Dennis Wilder, former senior director for East Asian affairs on the Bush administration's NSC, said a "review at this time is quite appropriate."

"There is a new U.S. representative in Taipei and it has been over a year since [Taiwan] president Ma Ying-jeou entered office," Wilder said, now with the Brookings Institution.

"There will be higher attention at the White House to Asia as President Obama plans for his November trip to Asia to attend the APEC Summit in Singapore and make stops in other Asian capitals, including Beijing," he said.

Current policy does not account for the dramatic changes in cross­strait relations and internal politics since the United States switched official recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. Since then, China has emerged as a diplomatic, military and economic powerhouse, and Taiwan has shed dictatorial rule to become a thriving democracy.

Cross-strait negotiations, stalled since 1998, have progressed quickly since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retook the Taiwan presidency and legislature in 2008 elections. In November 2008, China and Taiwan signed 13 agreements, including a formal end to the 1949 ban on direct travel.

China and Taiwan are now working on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and a memorandum of understanding on final supervision cooperation across the Taiwan Strait. There have been open discussions both in China and Taiwan of military confidence-building measures and a possible peace treaty.

"Cross-strait relations are changing and U.S. policy must adapt to these changes. However, I think any review should and will reaffirm strong U.S. support for Taiwan as codified into law in the Taiwan Relations Act," Wilder said.

Improved relations between China and Taiwan could actually serve as a silencer of debate on Taiwan in the U.S. government.

"With North Korea and China sucking up most people's time, the cross-strait issue seemingly is going smoothly, and with the no-troublemaking policy of the Ma administration, I just don't see Taiwan getting a lot of attention," said a former U.S. defense official.

From 2000-2008, the United States was distracted by the antics of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, now serving life in prison for corruption. Chen's pro-independence position and a tendency to irritate China and the United States forced Washington to focus on Taiwan issues. However, with the return of the KMT to power in Taipei, cross-strait relations have been on the fast track.