Taiwan is pivotal — not a sideshow — to the future of Asia, a senior academic told a Washington conference on Thursday.
Dan Twining of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said the country was fundamental to the strategic configuration of the “world’s emerging center of wealth and power” and the future of the US role within it.
Speaking at a conference organized by the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Taiwan’s Future in the Asian Century, Twining concentrated on what he called “a huge confluence of interests” between Taiwan and Japan.
He stressed that the “vast preponderance” of both Taiwanese and Japanese energy resources moved through the Western Pacific and the South China Sea, and these resources, would be threatened if China controlled Taiwan and used it as a center for the People’s Liberation Army to project power.
Not only that, the Chinese missile build-up aimed at Taiwan — and directed at deterring the US from intervening in a Taiwan contingency — was equally dangerous for Japan.
“The asymmetric capabilities designed to deter the US from intervening in a Taiwan-China conflict also have huge utility for China in severely complicating the US defense of Japan,” Twining added. “The future of the US ability to operate freely in wider Asia is transformed if Taiwan is in hostile hands.”
“If Taiwan becomes a base for Chinese power projection against us and our friends, the question of Okinawa — which is the center of US power projection in East and South East Asia — is brought into question.”
Twining said that the facts called for more strategic focus on Taiwan by Tokyo.
He called for more “creative security and diplomacy” by Japan toward Taiwan, including officer exchanges, developing a common view of maritime space and underwater and ballistic missile threats.
“There is a lot more integration work that could be done quite quietly — contingency planning between the US, Japan and Taiwan,” Twining said. “None of this needs to extend to any formal Japanese guarantee to defend Taiwan, but Japan would be so directly implicated in a Taiwan contingency that our Japanese allies should be thinking creatively about some of these possibilities.”
“Politicians in Taiwan may need to choose between closer relations with China and closer relations with Japan,” he added.
Randy Schriver, president of the Project 2049 Institute, said there was increasing talk in some US circles of abandoning Taiwan.
“It is serious. These are serious people; these are credible people; these are smart people. And they are putting forward arguments that are seemingly gaining currency and becoming more and more persuasive,” Schriver said. “It is both naive and dangerous.”
Schriver said US arms sales were designed to give Taiwan the confidence to “go to the negotiating table and do so without a gun at their head and get a deal that is good for the people of Taiwan.”
And he argued that the arms sales policy had worked and that there was a strong correlation between arms sales and an improvement in cross-strait relations.
“One of the largest arms sales we ever announced, the 1992 sale of 150 F-16s, was shortly followed by the so-called ‘ consensus,’” he said.
Schriver said the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement followed last year’s announcement by US President Barack Obama’s administration of a US$6.4 billion arms sales package.
“I can say there is a correlation, I can’t say it is the cause, but you cannot say the opposite — that arms sales are a detriment to cross-strait breakthroughs and improvements,” he said.
Schriver said he worried that in the event of abandonment, with Taiwan’s defenses left weakened, China would lose patience and the situation could become dangerous if Taipei did not move toward unification or political reconciliation.
“Does the military option become more attractive over time if Taiwan’s defenses are weakening and PRC [People’s Republic of China] defenses are growing stronger?” Schriver asked.