According to the latest information from Washington, the administration of US President Barack Obama has rejected Taiwan’s long-standing request to purchase submarines from the US.
In April 2001, then-US president George W. Bush’s administration promised to assist Taiwan in obtaining eight advanced diesel submarines. However, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party legislators repeatedly blocked the defense procurement budgets of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) government using their majority in the legislature. Furthermore, given that Taiwan-US relations were drifting apart at the time, the US decided to take no action.
Washington’s latest decision has dealt a heavy blow to the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) push to forge ahead with a domestic submarine program. The Obama administration has decided to go back on the promise made by the Bush administration by not only refusing to sell a platform to Taiwan, but also by declining to provide technical drawings or assistance. Instead, as a sop to pro-Taiwan members of the US Congress and the Tsai administration, Obama has promised to assist Taiwan in upgrading the weapons and sonar systems on two of its Chien Lung-class conventional diesel-powered submarines, purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s.
Aside from the navy’s two Dutch-manufactured submarines — the SS-793 Sea Dragon and SS-794 Sea Tiger — Taiwan also possesses two additional submarines: US-made Guppy-class, World War II-era vessels — the SS-791 Sea Lion and SS-792 Sea Leopard. The Guppy-class submarines are only used as training platforms for officers and cannot be used in a military conflict.
Washington’s promise is unrealistic, since it would take three to four years to upgrade each of the Chien Lung-class submarines, during which time Taiwan’s submarine capability would be cut in half.
At the end of last year, defense specialists from Washington-based think tanks held a conference to discuss the merits of Taiwan pursuing a domestic submarine program. There was general approval of the government’s policy of building an autonomous defense capability, while two important questions were raised.
First, producing submarines independently will require a vast amount of resources which would place a squeeze on other defense programs, as well as on the economy and domestic spending.
Second, it would take at least 10 years to take the submarines from the design phase to production, testing and commissioning, before they are ready for military deployment. With China’s army threatening Taiwan with an attack, the government does not have the luxury of having time on its side.
Although Israel is in possession of advanced defense technology, it has given up on domestic production, instead preferring to purchase decommissioned submarines from abroad to upgrade and improve their capabilities. To conserve military expenditure and deploy new submarines in a timely manner, Taiwan could draw lessons from Israel’s experience and try to obtain decommissioned submarines from either Japan or Italy. Since Taiwan-Japan relations are on a high, the government should do everything in its power to seize this golden opportunity.
It is by no means certain that the incoming US president would continue with the Obama administration’s Taiwan policy. There will therefore be a window of opportunity for the Tsai administration and Taiwan’s civic groups to capitalize on this change of administration and request that the US reviews its Taiwan policy.
In June and July, both houses of US Congress passed a concurrent resolution affirming the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances” as cornerstones of Taiwan-US relations. On July 18, the US Republican Party’s National Convention approved the inclusion of the “six assurances” in its party program for the first time ever, while supporting the timely sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan, including the technology required to manufacture diesel-powered submarines.
To avoid offending Beijing, the Obama administration has offered Taiwan outdated weaponry, while allowing China to dictate the quality and quantity of weapons that it sells to Taiwan. In doing so, the Obama administration has not only failed to sufficiently implement the Taiwan Relations Act, but its actions also run contrary to the “six assurances.”
The Tsai administration must come up with a strategy to mobilize every corner of Taiwanese society — including the legislature, think tanks and civic groups — to launch a comprehensive, public diplomatic offensive aimed at the US government, Congress, media, think tanks and business groups.
In particular, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Taiwan’s representative office in the US must work hard to fulfill their diplomatic role. They should lobby US Congress to monitor and supervise the executive branch of the US government to ensure that it faithfully implements the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances.”
Parris Chang, professor emeritus of political science at Penn State University and president of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies, served as a Democratic Progressive Party legislator and deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council.
Translated by Edward Jones
Over the past few years, migrant workers’ rights have improved in Taiwan, but there has not been a comparable improvement in protections for employers, who are faced with a range of challenges, such as family nurses mistreating patients or workers threatening to change brokers or demanding that employers change their jobs. Then there is the decrease in work standards. Migrant workers too often find the lure of the underground jobs market irresistible, are unaware of employment laws and regulations, or have found that National Immigration Agency (NIA) checks are lax, and as a result abscond. If this happens, what protections or
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has been giving daily COVID-19 updates for almost four months, and on several occasions when major developments have arisen, the news conferences have attracted large numbers of viewers. The entire nation is anxious about the pandemic, and interest in the latest news has become a part of daily life. Watching the center’s daily news conferences has become something of a national ritual. The pandemic has stabilized within Taiwan due to the admirable efforts of each person living in the nation conducting themselves with the utmost responsibility, and in certain cases making considerable sacrifices within their
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. In that war’s aftermath, novelist George Orwell produced two prophetic works. The first, Animal Farm, was published in August 1945; the second, Nineteen Eighty-Four, came out in June 1949. Both still ring true and cover a wide range of messages, including even how the mid-sized nation of Taiwan achieved its democracy and why it still maintains an outlier status in a COVID-19 world. With its full planetary scope, WWII left untold millions dead and injured, cities were destroyed and the future path of most nations was altered. New
United States Senator “Kit” Bond (R-MO) was a real leader on Asia policy during his time in Congress. Like most senators, he had a ready one-liner for every occasion. The one I never tired of hearing is “Well, looks like everything has been said. The problem is not everyone has said it.” It’s sort of like with US-China great power competition. There is not much new to say. This is especially true because it’s largely a story of what’s already happened: BRI, Made in China 2025, aggression in the South China Sea, provocations on the Indian border, cyber-hacks, erosion of “one country,