A panel of US experts has painted a bleak picture for Taiwan unless the administration of US President Barack Obama is prepared to sell a lot more new weapons systems to Taipei.
Richard Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told a briefing for congressional staff members and Washington-based Asia academics that the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait is now decidedly in China’s favor and appeared to become more so by the day.
On Monday, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie (梁光烈) confirmed for the first time that Beijing plans to build aircraft carriers. While there had been much speculation about this, it now seems likely that China will build as many as four carriers, including two that are nuclear-powered.
Fisher said there was also a “dangerous and troubling upgrade” of amphibious attack vehicles under way in China and he catalogued a long list of other weapons — including fighter aircraft, missile systems and submarines — now being developed, improved or purchased by the Chinese military.
He expressed alarm at “the seriousness of China’s intent” to build an invasion capability and at the way China’s army was being mechanized to make it more mobile.
“We end up with an increasingly threatening situation for Taiwan,” he said.
Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon official specializing in cross-strait relations, said: “Taiwan has the most significant military challenge in the world. No question about it. Nowhere does a country face the type of missile challenge that Taiwan does.”
The briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building was particularly significant because it was aimed at the congressional staff who advise US politicians and policy makers on the Taiwan arms issue.
Arthur Waldron, vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said: “I find all this stuff deeply worrying.”
He said the 30-year-old Taiwan Relations Act was not designed to deal with the complexity of the current situation and that formal diplomatic relations were needed between Taiwan and the US: “Visits by heads of state, embassies, golf games, trips to the family quarter of the White House, these are not frosting on the cake; they are absolutely essential.”
“Paying direct respect is very important,” Waldron said. “I don’t know how Taiwan can tolerate the constant insults. President Ma [Ying-jeou, 馬英九] can’t go anywhere and yet you have dictators from some countries that we think are important to us and they come over here and get full attention. It’s wrong.”
Waldron said that Washington needed to realize that in China’s view there would never be a good time to sell arms to Taiwan.
“There is no time the PRC [People’s Republic of China] will say, ‘God, this time you chose a good time and we are not going to object because we don’t have any problems.’ They will always object. We should say that we are going to do it and establish a routine of arms sales to Taiwan,” he said.
Waldron said that while Washington wanted Ma’s strategy of reducing “flashpoint tensions” with China to succeed, it should not come at the price of a loss of freedom or self-determination.
He said that the very nature of China’s political system and power made the leadership unable to respond appropriately and open-handedly enough to Ma’s friendship initiatives to make them work.