A new policy analysis from the Washington-based Wilson Center concludes that Taiwan should not seek “big-ticket military systems” such as advanced combat aircraft and submarines from the US.
Instead, the analysis says, Taiwan should be funding and building much lower-profile, but “more useful” hardening, redundancy and mobility options for its essential defense and command-and-control capabilities.
“As Taiwan does that, the US must be willing to provide the capabilities Taipei needs, including cruise missiles and air defense missiles,” retired US foreign service officer David Keegan says.
Keegan, the author of the Wilson Center policy analysis, served as deputy director of the American Institute in Taiwan and as director of the Office of Taiwan Policy in the US Department of State.
“Taiwan and the US must take a cold look at how to deter and if necessary respond to PRC [People’s Republic of China] coercion,” Keegan says. “We must beware of the PRC’s recent record of coercive incrementalism along its maritime periphery.”
“Our military capabilities and Taiwan’s must provide realistic options to respond effectively at each level of coercive action,” Keegan says.
Titled Taiwan Relations Act: Time for a Change? the analysis is part of the Wilson Center’s Policy Brief Series.
Taiwan is no longer an isolated friction in the US-China relationship, but an integral element in China’s broader military assertiveness along its eastern maritime border, Keegan says.
“This convergence of issues will force the US to fundamentally rethink how we manage the Taiwan issue,” he says.
Growing Chinese economic and military power will not be employed simply to achieve national unification, but to assert more broadly China’s historical rights and redress what it sees as historic inequities along its maritime periphery, Keegan says.
“The very real benefits of stable economic partnerships with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN nations may not be sufficient to curb these ambitions,” he says.
“No longer is China’s insistence on reunification a threat to Taiwan alone,” Keegan says.
The key, he says, is to integrate Taiwan more clearly into overall US China policy — the US-Taiwan relationship must be unofficial, but it must not be second-rate.
Keegan says Washington should improve the frequency of US policy dialogues with leaders of both main Taiwanese parties.
“We often say we do not take sides in foreign elections, that we do not pick winners and losers,” Keegan says.
Senior policy officials in Washington need to convey that convincingly to both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan, Keegan says.
Finally, Keegan says the US should not be discussing abandonment, “the ill-conceived notion that the PRC will reward the US for halting arms sales to Taipei and will show restraint in expanding its military capability to coerce Taiwan.”