The future of US-Taiwan relations is “bright and full of opportunity,” but Taipei needs to spend more on its own defense, US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce said on Wednesday in Washington.
Addressing a discussion organized by the Atlantic Council on the future of US-Taiwan relations, Royce said it was vital that Washington speak with one bipartisan voice when it came to support for Taiwan.
He said Taiwan needed to play a much larger role in US President Barack Obama’s rebalance to Asia and reminded the meeting that as a result of legislation he sponsored earlier this year, the US was offering to sell four decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates to Taipei.
As a result of budget constraints, Taipei is planning to buy only two of the ships, even though some analysts believe China’s recently expanded military poses a direct threat to Taiwan and all four are needed.
The frigates have the “advanced capabilities” that Taiwan could use, Royce said.
Representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) also spoke at the meeting, held in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration had turned the Taiwan Strait from a flash point to one of the most peaceful corridors in Asia, Shen said.
He said Taiwan was the largest single external source of information about China and the largest single external influence on China and that it should be confident and not afraid that it might be absorbed into the mainland.
Stressing the importance of bipartisanism in Taiwan-US relations, Royce recognized his “old friend” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) representative to the US Joseph Wu, who was in the front row of the audience.
Later, moderator and foreign affairs expert Robert Goldberg asked Wu for his views on the issue.
Wu called for bipartisanism in Taipei to support the US in its rebalance to Asia.
Taiwan should increase its defense budget to at least 3 percent of Gross National Product (GNP), he said.
Taipei needed to show the rest of the world that it had “the determination to defend itself,” Wu said.
Taiwan should increase research and development of indigenous weapons systems, including submarines, he said.
Wu thanked Royce for making the four frigates available and said Taiwan should buy all of them.
Taiwan also needs to strengthen relations with Japan and should not side with China against “friends and allies of the US” in Asia, he said.
“Taiwan should stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States,” Wu said.
Royce said it was important for Taiwan to spend a “credible amount” of its GNP on defense and 3 percent was a good idea.
He said increased defense budgets would allow for indigenous weapons development and would also allow Taiwan’s navy to take full advantage of the four frigates on offer.
Answering questions from the audience, Royce said Taiwan needed to diversify its economy and that it should not be reliant on any one country.
He promised to support a bilateral investment agreement between the US and Taiwan and said he would push to get Taiwan “at the table” to negotiate membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Membership would benefit Taiwan in many ways, Royce said.