Taipei Times (TT): What brings you to Taiwan this time around?
Paul Wolfowitz (PW): Every year or so, we [the US-Taiwan Business Council] get out here to meet officials and get a reading of the state of things. With the political competition as intense as it is, we felt it would be interesting to get a feel for that.
I’d like to come back in January and actually see what the election is like. If you think about it, this [will be] only the fifth democratic election in Chinese history. It’s still not something to take for granted and I think what’s happening here is important for China.
It’s commonly said in American policy discourse that Taiwan is an obstacle in US-China relations — and I know what this means — but I think it’s wrong not to recognize this as an opportunity. One of the things that struck me is how many people I met in the last few days who said the Chinese tourists who come here spend a lot of time in their hotel rooms watching Taiwanese talk shows. The fact that this can happen is a relatively good thing.
One has to give a little bit of credit to the regime on the mainland, which I am not known for giving enormous amount of credit to, for they’re willing to let this happen by the millions. I do think there is recognition that there has to be change to their system over time.
The long-term trend is that developments here can be educational to China.
TT: There has been a lot of disappointment in Taiwan over the failure to obtain the F-16C/Ds. Do you think there will be an opportunity for Taiwan to obtain them if there’s a change in US administration?
PW: I hope it will be done even with this administration, but it’s a long shot.
There’s just the sheer numbers problem and in fact the F-16A/B upgrades exacerbate that problem.
At some point, the older models just won’t be flyable anymore. And if we wait too long, the F-16 won’t be there as an option and the F-35 is not an option. Postponing it for too long is creating much bigger problems.
I think there’s going to be a certain amount of political pressure in the US that might have more impact during an election year — jobs, key states.
It’s almost embarrassing to say, since one would like to say these decisions are made based on a very careful, sober assessment of all the national security consequences, but the first F-16 sale was a product of the 1992 election.
The thing that worries me about the F-16C/D decision is I that it sends a signal of weakness that can invite trouble.
It would be wiser to live with the fuss that the Chinese would inevitably make if we make the sale, but have the benefit of having made it clear that we’re not walking away from this place and that we mean it when we say ‘no independence’ and a ‘no use of force.’
As long as you stick on the ‘no independence’ … and [President] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been helpful in that regard.
I think both parties learned a lesson from what former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did to US-Taiwan relations.
TT: Any thoughts on Ma’s proposed ‘peace accord’ between Taiwan and China?
PW: I think everyone is a little puzzled over why Ma put it forward now at the most political time possible.
I don’t know what the ‘peace agreement’ notion implies, but I do know what they have been doing in practical improvements in cross-strait relations, and that is a very good thing. I do hope that whoever wins [in January] will continue that process and institutionalize it.