Ma’s hidden agenda
An article on the Washington Post’s Web site on June 12 titled “Top US officials stalling Taiwan arms package” identified President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as the culprits responsible for the US’ controversial “de facto freeze” in military sales to Taipei.
The past few years have seen top US officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, being “irritated by Taiwan’s protracted wrangling over the sale.” But the last straw might be a recent request from Ma’s government that US President George W. Bush’s administration “not send the [sale] notifications [to the US Congress] in the next few weeks as China and Taiwan complete negotiations on launching charter flights and expanding tourism between the two countries.”
It’s worth noting that the funding for the purchase of the military hardware in question has been blocked by the KMT-controlled legislature dozens of times in the last four years until shortly before the recent legislative and presidential elections.
The Washington Post report raised the possibility that Ma might be taking the first step to acquiesce to Beijing’s pressure to disarming Taiwan unilaterally, with an eye to partially fulfilling the prerequisite for a peace agreement with China.
The Ma government’s subsequent refuting of the Post’s account together with his unprecedented campaign to highlight Taiwan’s defense needs hardly stemmed that public perception. It appeared that Ma and company acted only as a result of Washington’s prodding — by way of toying with the KMT leaders’ US immigration records.
A green-card revelation on National Security Council head Su Chi (蘇起), on the heels of his rumored relay of Ma’s desire to delay the aforementioned arms package to Bush administration, didn’t seem coincidental.
What doesn’t bode well for the long term is the likelihood that, barring a fundamental shift in the dynamics, a temporary freeze of this nature could become permanent.
To begin with, it would require a great deal of impetus to restart a stalled arm supply program, especially one that has been unpopular among pro-China elements in the US and opposed fervently by Beijing. Compounding the difficulty would be Washington’s wariness at “irritating China [either] during the negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs” or while engaging Chinese in other areas where Washington needs Beijing’s cooperation.
Hence, in this three-way tug of war on arming Taiwan, Beijing’s resolve is pitted against Washington’s ambivalence and Ma’s hidden agenda.
Should the disarmament of Taiwan come to pass, thereby removing one of Taiwan Relation Act’s main pillars, Washington would be forced to reevaluate the act. Implications to Taiwan’s security therefore couldn’t be overstated considering that the nation’s protector for more than half a century might be in the throes of shedding its guarantee.
Ma and the KMT in their haste to cozy up to Beijing might have — inadvertently at best and calculatedly at worst — committed a monumental national security blunder that could cost Taiwan all viable options.
That would be the case unless the Bush administration is willing to take Ma government’s new-found backbone at face value and proceed with weapons purchases, effectively foiling any sinister attempt at disarming the nation.