Tue, May 28, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Response hubs to integrate Taiwan

By Robert Eldridge

Retired US Marine Corps colonel Grant Newsham, a Northeast Asia expert and strategist, penned an op-ed that readers in Taiwan and Taiwanese abroad would attest was very much on the mark (“Isolation hurts Taiwan’s military,” May 16, page 8).

The US’ 40 years of close intelligence, as well as military and economic cooperation, with the People’s Republic of China unnecessarily came at the expense of its relations with Taiwan and long-term interests. The US’ Taiwan Relations Act, enacted in 1979, cannot make up for the lack of full diplomatic relations.

The US has only recently begun to wake up to the threat that China poses to its national interests — and those of the region and the world — despite warnings from Newsham and others over the years.

A proposal in Newsham’s piece that I would like to expand on is his call for a “Central Pacific Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Force.”

He explains that it would use “US and Taiwanese amphibious forces to plan, train and exercise, and — when disasters occur — respond to them.”

“Base the outfit in Taiwan and attach US officers, say from the US Navy’s 7th Fleet and the US Marine Corps’ 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which are well-versed in disaster response,” he wrote.

Newsham — a key player in the US response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011 and subsequently the first US Marine liaison officer assigned to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, helping to develop its amphibious capability — continues: “A particular advantage of using amphibious forces is that they combine the air, sea and ground capabilities needed for effective disaster relief. Coincidentally, these are the same skills used for regular military operations — except for the shooting.”

Newsham’s proposal fits nicely with a similar idea that I outlined several years ago, shortly after the April 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake in Western Japan. Specifically, it was a call for Taiwan, Japan, the US and the Philippines — four democracies with shared values and interests — to cooperate in constructing a network of disaster response hubs along the first island chain, which regularly sees a high proportion of natural disasters, including earthquakes, typhoons and floods.

The hubs, which would be constructed at ports or airports, would have prepositioned equipment and supplies — including food, water, blankets, tents and medicine — emergency operations centers; meeting, classroom and training spaces; and a permanent, around-the-clock staff of multinational, bilingual civilians and military personnel on call and well-versed in disaster response.

These personnel exchanges are critical to develop trust and working relationships between the civilian and military communities, the organizations they represent and the nations they hail from.

Internships could also be developed for students from partner nations, not only helping to develop their expertise and networks as future specialists in disaster mitigation, reduction, preparedness and response, but also building bridges between the young people of participating nations.

These personnel and student efforts would help end Taiwan’s isolation.

Located every few hundred kilometers, the hubs would serve as overlapping, mutually supportive centers in case one got damaged in a natural disaster.

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