Soon King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), the outgoing envoy to the US, will take over the National Security Council. Exactly what King, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) alter ego, will do in his new post has been a matter of much concern in Taiwan.
Notwithstanding the speculation in the media that the prime function of the new council head will concern domestic politics, that is to win the seven-in-one elections in November and help Ma extricate himself from deep political woes, King has stated flatly that he “would not touch” domestic elections.
Instead, he said he will devote himself to promoting Taiwan’s participation in two major international economic and trade groups, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Taiwan is excluded from most regional economic and trade organizations. Joining the partnerships is quite important for Taiwan. However, the council’s portfolios are not confined to economic matters; its major functions are to advise Ma on national security — defense and foreign policy, especially Taiwan’s relations with the US, China, Japan and ASEAN.
During Ma’s tenure, the cross-strait relations have improved considerably, but China’s goal of annexing Taiwan remains unchanged, and Beijing has deployed formidable forces, including 1,600 missiles targeted at Taiwan. International observers have repeatedly warned about the serious imbalance of military power in the Taiwan Strait, which poses grave dangers to Taiwan’s security.
In testimony to the US Congress last month, Ambassador David Shear, the Pentagon’s incoming top policy official for Asia, called for Taiwan to increase its defense budget to 3 percent of GDP to complement US support (“US may press Taiwan to boost defense,” Feb. 28, page 1) Shear said that the rapid growth and modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army is aimed at winning high-intensity, short-duration regional conflict primarily focused on Taiwan. The US priority is to assist Taiwan in implementing an asymmetric and innovative defense strategy to deter Chinese aggression.
Sadly, Ma has steadily decreased Taiwan’s defense spending in the past six years. In the 2012 fiscal year Taiwan’s defense budget of US$10.6 billion represented only 2.2 percent of GDP. As King enjoys Ma’s full confidence, he should persuade the president to raise the allocation for defense. Despite vehement objections from Beijing, so far the US continues providing Taiwan with what it needs to enhance defense capabilities.
In a seminar on US arms sales to Taiwan at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush made a thought-provoking point on Taiwan’s defense strategy worthy of close attention. To quote him at some length:
“From the US perspective, its arms sales, whatever their political value for Taiwan, should also contribute to Taiwan’s ability to deter a Mainland attack or the threat of an attack. If we were to decide to come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of such an attack, we would need Taiwan to hold on for several weeks while we do all that would be needed to mount that defense.
“So Taiwan needs the capacity to hold on... In this regard, there is growing concern that Taiwan’s past defense strategy, on which its arms requests to the US are based, is no longer appropriate to its threat environment, thus reducing the deterrent effect of the capabilities it has or might have,” he said.
According to sources in the Pentagon, Taiwan’s arms procurement policy has suffered from the lack of coherent and integrative strategic planning. Over the years, its focus has been on buying new and costly hardware for each of the services, without enough emphasis on training, logistics and maintenance. Hence, the new security council boss must step in to guide and help shape a sound defense strategy and arms procurement policy. To do his job well, King must do his “homework” on Taiwan’s threat assessment and the corresponding defense strategy and requisite weapons systems, enabling him to advise and convince Ma.
How well and how long can Taiwan’s military forces withstand a full-scale attack?
“At least one month” was Minister of National Defense Yen Ming’s (嚴明) reply to a legislator’s interpellation on March 6; but most defense experts do not regard the answer as credible. Nevertheless, they agree that Taiwan must devise and carry out an asymmetric defense strategy that could inflict heavy losses on the invaders if the Chinese army were to stage an attack on Taiwan.
Such a strategy would require Taiwan to deploy supersonic land attack as well as anti-ship missiles like the HF-3, which can strike at China’s airports and missile bases in the coastal regions and China’s naval ships in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan must also fully utilize its potent, sophisticated information technology to develop robust and advanced cyberwar capabilities and build a small, but high-caliber Internet army to wage a defensive information warfare.
If Taiwan’s Internet army has the capacity to attack and cripple the Chinese army’s command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance systems (C4ISR), then Beijing is less likely to contemplate an attack in the first place.
In recent years, a Chinese espionage offensive has seriously damaged Taiwan’s national security, as numerous current and retired Taiwanese military officers have been seduced by money, sex and other favors to steal military secrets for Beijing’s intelligence services. The major targets of the espionage campaign were classified information on Taiwan’s C4ISR and the US weapons sold to Taiwan. The loss of these sensitive secrets has been harmful not only to Taiwan’s defense efforts.
“[It also] serves to undermine US confidence in security cooperation with Taiwan,” as former AIT director William Stanton pointed out in a public speech To compensate for Ma’s willful blindness to Beijing’s aggressive espionage and Taiwan’s serious security risks, the new security council head’s priority is to launch an intensive counter-espionage drive to catch Chinese spies and safeguard Taiwan’s national security. It is particularly worrying that more US academics have been calling for the US to abandon Taiwan, at a time when Ma sees the Taiwan-US relations as better than ever. University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer’s advice for the US to “say goodbye to Taiwan” does not resonate with the Americans at large, nor with the mainstream opinion of the Washington community.
However, Taiwan can ill afford to overlook Beijing’s charm offensive in the US. Its wily united front operations seek to win over influential intellectuals and research groups, and to persuade retired generals who retain connections with policymakers that the US interests would be better served if Washington were to terminate its security commitment to Taiwan and cut off arms sales.
It is not too late for Taiwan to respond to China’s challenge in the US, if King were to persuade Ma to forgo the so-called diplomatic truce. A vibrant democracy, Taiwan is an invaluable US political, economic and security partner, willing and able to support and reinforce the US pivot to Asia. Let Taiwanese, academics, experts from civil society and officials speak to the Americans through track-two dialogues, think tank discussions and seminars, so they may help inform and enlighten US media, experts and an attentive public as to why Taiwan matters to the US. It is incumbent upon King and his successor at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), a seasoned career diplomat and English speaker, to plan and mount a concerted, innovative public diplomacy in the US.
Parris Chang, professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University, is chief executive of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies. He has served as deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and a as a legislator.