The director of the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Edward Ross, on Monday issued a blunt warning on Taiwan's blocked arms-procurement bill, saying that in terms of its Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the US is under no obligation to help Taiwan deter a military threat in the Strait if it believes that Taiwan has not fulfilled its unwritten obligation to ensure its own viable self-defense.
The US' comments to Taiwan have evolved from statements of support and appreciation into complaints, and now into clear words of warning.
The latest rhetoric from senior Pentagon officials shows that the US has changed its policy of communicating with the Democratic Progressive Party administration to making appeals to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party, and now to directly addressing the people of Taiwan, urging them to have the determination to defend themselves and hold their lawmakers accountable for their actions.
Without doubt, the Bush administration seems to have grown rather disappointed, frustrated and discontented with politicians in Taiwan on the self-defense issue. As Ross forthrightly put it: The special budget for the arms-procurement plan has become a "political football" in the field of Taiwan's domestic politics, and that "this battered ball has been kept in play more to entertain the players -- the politicians -- than to serve the real needs of Taiwan."
Can you blame the US? Even Taiwan's friends in the US Congress are asking why the US should risk the lives of its young men and women to defend Taiwan, which seems to be reluctant to invest in its own defense.
Despite China's substantial military build-up in recent years, Taiwan's defense budget has been declining for the past 10 years. And then the legislature's pan-blue dominated Procedure Committee on Tuesday yet again rejected the arms-procurement bill, marking the 29th time Taiwan has said "No" to the package of eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P3 surveillance planes and advanced Patriot missile defense systems which the US had approved in 2001.
What impression is Taiwan creating with these 29 rejections? That it is unwilling to invest in its own defense, but regards the TRA as a blank check issued by the US to defend it? Or that it is simply so stupid as to be oblivious to the military threat posed by its vicious, giant neighbor? The latest rejection of the arms-procurement plan must seem like encouragement to China in its aggression toward Taiwan.
Some in Taiwan argue that Taiwan can never match the spending of China, the emerging military giant -- so why try? Such a mindset demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the military. The military exists to deter attacks. It deters attacks by providing a credible defense capability.
It is frustrating enough to see Taiwan being locked in a diplomatically disadvantageous position on the international stage, but it is even more terrifying to see senseless domestic politics making Taiwan's national defense one of the nation's weaknesses.
All politicians, regardless of party affiliations, ought to ask themselves and examine their hearts about what they have done to substantively promote Taiwan's national defense. Taiwan possesses no offensive capability against China. Are they going to let the nation lose even the most basic minimum requirement -- a capacity to at least deter threats?