Wed, Nov 28, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taking Asia by surprise: a response

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

This leads directly to his third recommendation, which calls for Taiwan to “shift from seeking diplomatic acknowledgment and recognition to developing solutions to the sovereignty questions in the South China Sea.” Taiwan should therefore be a generous provider of humanitarian assistance (which it can only do by joining multilateral organizations), but should not seek recognition. Bates then says Taiwan should launch more track-II initiatives on regional disputes, something it is doing already, but it can only do so much without recognition of its own sovereign rights, which again Beijing refuses to do.

Taipei should then launch a “‘democracy offensive’ aimed at nations in Asia where governments systematically deny their citizens fundamental human rights” and should do so by pledging US$1 billion over 10 years (why US$1 billion is never explained) to engage people and build civil societies across Asia. So Taiwan should spend about one-tenth of its current annual defense budget helping others, but should not seek recognition in return, nor should it ask that the systematic violation of its 23 million people by China be resolved. Altruism indeed requires selflessness, but certainly not to the extent of self-abnegation.

Finally, when its army has been cut in half and redesigned to serve humanitarian purposes, Bates says Taiwan should adopt a “hornet’s nest” strategy, which, among other things, includes “dramatically upgrading its air defenses and modernizing its navy for the purposes of denying any regional power the ability to gain air or naval superiority over Taiwan without suffering huge losses.” How it could achieve this, given the size of China’s navy and air force, is a mystery.

And there’s more to the grocery list: Taiwan, the author says, should “build or acquire the latest land-based air and missile defense systems, signals intelligence, aircraft, attack and minesweeper helicopters, upgraded Lafayette-class frigates, F-16s and Sea Dragon submarines” and also upgrade its F-16s (twice now) while deploying “a force of hundreds of armed drone aircraft.”

The contradictions are enough to make a general spin like a top. The Taiwanese army would be cut by half, and the main focus of its operations would now be humanitarian rescue — involving a major investment in airlift capabilities that Bates does not even begin to describe — but then, with its land army halved, it should embark on a major arms modernization program that would make Saudi Arabia and Israel look like Monday shoppers at the discount store. Taiwan cannot have it both ways.

Furthermore, dismantling its counterforce capabilities would give China free rein to fire as many missiles as it wants, Taiwan would have to acquire or develop huge numbers of extraordinarily expensive air defense systems.

Sure, with an infinite budget, it would be great if every Taiwanese had a PAC-3 in his backyard, but that is not going to happen. The six PAC-3 units it has purchased in the past decade have already put a severe strain on Taiwan’s defense budget. His fantasy calls for way more than that.

With the dozen or so modernization programs Bates recommends, plus the acquisition of “hundreds of attack drones,” Taiwan would be in financial debt for decades to come. Where Taiwan would find such money, Bates does not say, nor does he shed light on how Washington would respond to its acquisition of offensive drones, who Taiwan would get them from and at what cost (ironically, the cheapest attack drones are made in China).

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