American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young's recent press conference marked a watershed in US intervention in Taiwan's internal affairs.
In an unprecedented move, Young "set" a year-end deadline for the legislature to pass a "robust" arms bill. The protocol-breaking move underscored the urgency Washington places on improving Taiwan's ability to defend itself.
The US likely believes that the nation's reluctance to arm itself not only limits its role in Washington's defense strategy for the western Pacific, but also renders Taiwan a security liability.
If the arms situation persists, the US-Japan security alliance could conceivably change its focus from defending Taiwan to merely seeking to prevent the nation from turning into a secure base for Beijing.
The current "downward spiral" in the level of US-Taiwan military exchanges could evince the onset of such a transition.
Young seemed to be giving a direct warning to pan-blue leaders Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (
Instead of a plea, Young delivered an ultimatum. The unambiguous message to the nation: Throw the rascals out or brace for the dire consequences. Washington wants the nation to decide -- and soon -- whether it still has the will to defend itself or if it is content to continue its slow transformation into a satellite of China.
Young's effort to stay above the fray of local politics sets his comment apart from the conflicting information Taiwan's politicians and media have been feeding the general public. His talk should have the effect of awakening the nation from its security stupor.
Taiwan's paralysis in the face of China's unrelenting military buildup is a reflection of the nation's political polarization rather than its desire to take advantage of US largesse.
As often insinuated by Taiwan's antagonists in the US, the nation's inability to pass an arms bill is nothing but an abdication of its responsibilities at the potential expense of US lives.
Because Young's public exhortations are backed by the weight of the US government, his message likely reflects Washington's position on the arms bill. But it could also become instrumental in poking holes in the impervious pan-blue legislative voting block. In turn, this might even ease the impasse that grips Taiwan's politics today.
This assertion stems primarily from the fact that arms purchase is but one of a host of bills that have been stymied without proper explanation by the KMT-dominated legislature for years. Just about everything that would contribute to the nation's sovereignty, judicial reforms, transitional justice and clean government has fallen victim to the KMT's unique brand of obstruction.
Young's warning could force Ma and the KMT to make a choice between Ma's ambition to be president -- which requires US support -- and the deep-blue faction's resolve to keep Taiwan's defense purchase bottled up. The pan-blue camp is uncomfortable about actually revealing its true vision of the nation's relationship with China, but Young's remarks have had the effect of forcing them to decide whether they side with Washington or Beijing.
Flushing the pan-blue camp's intentions out into the open is bound to create a chink in the armor that keeps the KMT legislative majority intact, thereby allowing at least a trickle -- if not a deluge -- of legislation to pass. The KMT's difficulty in explaining away its about-face on weapons procurement would increase the pressure on it to pass other important bills.