Tue, Sep 20, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Defending Taiwan’s sovereignty

By John Copper

For some time, officials from Taiwan’s two major political parties, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), have argued they are better qualified to guard Taiwan’s sovereignty (which, of course, is challenged by China). It is currently a hot issue in the campaigns for the presidential and legislative elections in January.

DPP stalwarts say that its efforts to create a separate or independent Taiwan equates to protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty. They also suggest that the DPP is the party that promotes democracy, which means the international community will support Taiwan’s efforts to remain sovereign.

The KMT has a different take on the problem: that Taiwan’s economy must be healthy to survive in a world of globalism, that it has reduced corruption (a blight on Taiwan’s global image that reduced support abroad) and that it manages foreign affairs better than the DPP.

Some opinion polls in Taiwan indicate the public perceives the DPP is better able to do the job. However, KMT leaders argue that protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty by promoting independence has little to no support outside Taiwan and is counterproductive.

Who then is better at protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty? The answer is: neither.

The relevant issue is that Taiwan cannot defend itself. Its military capabilities are small and are fast diminishing relative to China’s. Witness computer simulations and various studies that indicate how long Taiwan would be able to hold off an attack from the People’s Liberation Army (mainly its air force and navy). It is reckoned to be anywhere from two hours to a week or so, but is growing shorter month by month.

Taiwan’s military strategy is to fight, doing its best until the US comes to the rescue. However, ultimately it cannot win.

If the US does not act, Taiwan would have to surrender, after which it would no longer be sovereign. In other words, whether or not Taiwan remains sovereign is in the hands of the US, not the DPP or the KMT. Unfortunately, it will not be decided by the Taiwanese.

This brings us to the matter of the US commitment to Taiwan. The crux of the question is: Is it being eroded?

In the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), passed into law in 1979, the US pledged to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons to meet its needs and promised to keep US troops in East Asia (ostensibly to protect Taiwan, while the weapons sales ensure Taiwan is able to maintain a successful defense until more US forces can arrive on the scene). In ensuing years, Congress was vigilant in ensuring the TRA’s guarantees remained solid.

However, recently serious doubts have been raised about the US commitment to defend Taiwan.

In late 2009, US President Barack Obama visited China and in a joint statement there pledged to uphold the communiques signed with China (all of which are favorable to China and unfavorable to Taiwan). He did not mention the Taiwan Relations Act.

Obama never mentions Taiwan’s democracy or its strong human rights record in any meaningful context. He has never sent a top official involved in making US Asia policy to Taiwan. Hopes for a US-Taiwan free-trade agreement have languished under the Obama administration.

The Obama administration has promised weapons sales to Taiwan, but at a level a little more than one-third the amount former US president George W. Bush promised in 2001, and it has not delivered on important parts of the deal. The delivery of F-16C/D fighter planes has been put on hold and will probably not happen. The number of submarines has been scaled back. Anyway, the US does not make the kind of submarine promised and may not be able to, or even want to, persuade anyone else to sell them.

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