US policy on Taiwan under US President Barack Obama has taken a “hazardous” turn that appears to be moving toward support for Beijing’s interpretation of its core interests, the US-Taiwan Business Council said in a special commentary released on Monday.
The Obama administration appears to be “telegraphing its willingness to moderate legacy Taiwan support and cede more control to China in the dynamics and direction of cross-strait affairs,” said the report, titled The American Defense Commitment to Taiwan Continues to Deteriorate.
For the first time in about a decade, the US has the opportunity to reassess Taiwan’s defense requirements and future US security support for its longtime ally, the commentary said.
Although last year “started off strong on Taiwan defense issues,” with the Jan. 29 notification to Congress of five separate arms sales programs worth US$6.4 billion, the programs “were not intrinsically controversial,” since the great bulk of the money involved UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters and PAC-III missile defense batteries. Those items were leftovers from former US president George W. Bush’s April 2001 arms package, it said.
Another notification in August involved a small US$250 million package to upgrade radars on Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter — again a non-controversial program.
“On both occasions the arms sales notified were originally intended to address the military threat posed by China dating back before April 2001,” the report said.
As a result, the arms sold to Taiwan are “a solid decade out of date,” it said. “China rolls out its J-20 [stealth aircraft] prototype, and America enters the 6th year of deliberation over whether to provide Taiwan with additional F-16s — a platform already in its inventory.”
Although the Obama administration has been right to encourage cross-strait economic liberalization and support President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), China’s military posture has failed to dovetail with those developments, the report said.
“It is not acceptable to point to the ECFA as the only dynamic aspect of today’s cross-strait development,” it said. “China’s military investments are having a huge impact on the cross-strait status quo.”
“China is playing relentless offense on Taiwan, and at some point the US has to step up and make it pay for its actions,” the commentary said, adding that Washington “must be as outspoken in [its] opposition to China’s strategy of military coercion as [it is] in [its] support of the ECFA and other positive trends.”
However, such a response has yet to materialize, it said.
“Two years into Mr Obama’s term in office, we have yet to see a single material action that suggests US willingness to make China pay a real cost for its aggressive cross-strait posture,” the chamber report said.
In addition to giving Taiwan and China the impression that it doesn’t care enough to act, US inaction will likely have an impact on the calculations of South Koreans and Japanese, who risk seeing this as “a drawn-out withdrawal of US interests in North Asia.”
The report called for the de-politicization of the process of arms sales to Taiwan, saying that indecision on the US side had forced Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) to return more than US$1.4 billion in unused budget to state coffers since 2007.
The council’s criticism was not only focused on Washington, however, pointing to Ma’s failure to meet his campaign promise on national defense.
“As the US shows increasing angst over selling arms to Taiwan, President Ma and his colleagues have determined that they no longer need stand by their ‘defense spending at 3% of GDP’ commitment, as there is little demand from Washington that they do so,” the report said.
“The overall consensus is that Taiwan isn’t spending enough on national security,” it said, adding that forecasts for this year put direct defense expenditure at 2.16 percent of GDP, a figure that would rise to about 2.73 percent of GDP if non-direct expenditures were factored in.
If Taiwan’s economic -expansion continues apace, the share of defense spending to GDP could fall below 2 percent, it said.
The Ma administration’s failure to substantially increase direct and non-direct spending is taking place during a period when Taiwan has to take on “significant new commitments,” it said.
This “budget squeeze” has “tipped the scales so that the MND is laboring under tremendous budget shortages.”
A likely consequence is that Taiwan will almost certainly have to “refocus its force modernization plans” over the next half-decade and look for lower acquisition cost solutions and the prioritization of mid-life upgrades rather than the acquisition of new, more modern platforms.
Looking to the future, the council said a classified assessment of Taiwan’s air power capabilities to Congress — scheduled for release last year, but likely delayed until the second quarter this year — would hopefully provide a blueprint for US security cooperation with Taiwan.
However, the council said it feared the report “will have been written from the perspective of what the administration is and is not prepared to do when it comes to supporting Taiwan defense, rather than being based on the actual threat facing Taiwan.”
‘NO EQUILIBRIUM’: Taiwan’s increased defense spending is a good step, but it needs to do more to have the ability to deter aggression from China, a senior US official said The US plans to sell as many as seven major weapons systems — including mines, cruise missiles and drones — to Taiwan, four people familiar with the discussions said. Pursuing seven sales at once is a rare departure from years of precedent in which US military sales to Taiwan were spaced out and carefully calibrated to minimize tensions with Beijing. However, US President Donald Trump’s administration has this year become more aggressive with China, and the sales would land as relations between Beijing and Washington are at their lowest point in decades over accusations of spying, lingering trade tensions, disputes about the
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Several of the PLA fighter jets that crossed the median line of the Strait came within 68km of Hsinchu, drawing warnings from Taiwan, the ministry said At least 18 Chinese military aircraft yesterday flew into the nation’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on the second day of a US delegation’s visit, the Ministry of National Defense said, adding that the military responded by deploying an air defense missile system to monitor their activities. A delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach on Thursday started a three-day visit to Taiwan. The ministry from Thursday started publicizing the actions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Taiwan’s ADIZ on its Web site and Twitter. According to ministry reports, 18 PLA aircraft
ON THEIR OWN: The KMT has decided not to participate as a party at this year’s forum, and if any members do go, they would not be representing the party, Alicia Wang said The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) yesterday announced that it would not send a delegation “as a political party” to this year’s Straits Forum, after a Chinese TV program described the planned visit to the annual meeting as “suing for peace.” The 12th forum is scheduled to open in Xiamen, China, on Saturday. On Tuesday last week, the KMT announced that former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) would lead the party’s delegation to the forum, with KMT Secretary-General Lee Chien-lung (李乾龍) as deputy head. However, on Thursday last week, China Central Television’s (CCTV) Yangshipin (央視頻) program, hosted by Li Hong (李紅), included a headline
RIVERSIDE CAMP: As rescuers continued their search for a missing man, Taipower said that the floodgates at a hydro plant on the Lishi Creek opened due to a malfunction Three people have been confirmed dead and one was missing after being swept away by a flash flood while camping in Nantou County’s Renai Township (仁愛), police said yesterday. Six people from two families were camping near Lishi Creek (栗栖溪) when the riverbanks were suddenly flooded just after 4am, carrying away four of the campers — including two children — who were asleep in their tents, police said. A man who was among those swept away was able to climb ashore and call for help, police said, adding that another man had gone missing in the turmoil at the campsite.