Members of the US Congress have formally asked US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to invite Taiwan to join the Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise next year.
RIMPAC is held every two years and is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise.
“It is critical for the US to maintain a relationship with Taiwan equal to that which we maintain with China,” US House of Representatives Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes said on Monday.
“Taiwan has been a faithful, democratic ally of the US for decades,” the Republican Forbes said.
A co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, Forbes said that while China has been invited to join the RIMPAC exercise next year, Taiwan has not, despite “the opportunity to enhance its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.”
Led by Forbes, eight members of Congress have signed a bipartisan letter requesting Hagel to issue an invitation to Taipei.
Next year’s RIMPAC will include 23 nations and will focus on enhancing the interoperability of combined forces to improve maritime security.
“It is our understanding that the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Navy, after being invited to participate by your predecessor, Leon Panetta, is planning to contribute several Navy ships to the exercise,” the US representatives say in their letter.
“We believe it is beneficial for the US to maintain a relationship with Taiwan equal to the relationship our government chooses to maintain with [China],” the letter says.
For the same reasons that the PRC has been invited to join RIMPAC, which include building a closer maritime relationship and enhancing critical nautical skills useful for maintaining peace and stability in the region, “an invitation should also be extended to Taiwan,” the letter says.
Participation in the exercises will help Taiwan respond to disasters and contribute to the “security and stability” of the Asia-Pacific region.
The lawmakers say that there is a “strong precedent” for bilateral and multilateral engagement with Taiwan.
Since 1997, the US Air Force has trained Taiwan’s F-16 pilots at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, alongside Singapore Air Force pilots.
The US has stressed the importance of this training and said that Taiwan is one of the major powers in Asia and the Western Pacific and a key partner of the US in “ensuring peace and stability in that region.”
“We could not agree more with the benefits of this effort and believe Taiwan and the region will only benefit from extending our training and exercises to the maritime realm,” the lawmakers say in their letter.
“America’s long-standing relationship with its democratic partner in Taiwan is stronger than ever, but we believe there are still areas where we should continue to deepen this partnership,” they say. “We therefore hope you strongly consider our request to expand military exercises with Taiwan and extend an invitation for their participation in RIMPAC 2014.”
A Pentagon source said on Monday that he could not comment on the letter until after it had been received and considered by Hagel.