Although US defense officials welcome recent efforts to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait, some are starting to show a high degree of concern about possible cooperation between Taiwan and China on South China Sea disputes, Taiwanese academics say.
At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last weekend, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Washington strongly supports the efforts that Taiwan and China have made in recent years to improve cross-strait relations.
While Panetta strongly encouraged further development in that direction, in more quiet settings, US officials are reportedly expressing reservations about possible cooperation between Taiwan and China on military issues, including South China Sea disputes and an eventual mutual-trust mechanism.
Commenting on the future role of the US in the region, Lan Ning-li (蘭寧利), a retired vice admiral and a researcher at the National Policy Foundation (NPF), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) think tank, said that while Washington would continue to support peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, privately, some US officials are worried about the possibility that Taipei and Beijing could jointly seek to address South China Sea disputes.
Taiwan and China both claim several islands in the South China Sea, which has generated disputes with other regional claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
Alexander Huang (黃介正), a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University, said the US was “very concerned” about Taiwan’s policy orientation in the South China Sea, adding that there was a “high degree of concern” about whether cross-strait cooperation would extend to the South China Sea.
Huang said Taiwanese representatives attending international conferences on security issues in the past have made US academics jittery with their stance on the South China Sea.
A delegation of academics from Taiwan attended this year’s Shangri-La conference, including Liu Fu-kuo (劉復國), executive director of the MacArthur Center for Security Studies (MCSS) at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University, Arthur Ding (丁樹範), a professor of international relations at that university, and Wang Kao-cheng (王高成) of the Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University.
The MCSS last year co-published a book with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs-linked National Institute for South China Sea Studies suggesting that Taiwan and China should make joint efforts to safeguard sovereignty over disputed areas in the South China Sea, arguing that sovereignty belonged to “one China.”
National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) said last month the time was not right for Taiwan to implement a proposal by the NPF that both sides use the South China Sea as a “pioneer region” to implement a military mutual-trust mechanism and denied there were plans for Taiwan to cooperate with China on the issue.
Additional reporting by CNA