Sat, Sep 15, 2018 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Taiwan courting security ties with bigger friends

Reuters, TAIPEI and HONG KONG

The national flags of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are flown inside the Diplomatic Quarter in Taipei on Aug. 23.

Photo: Tyrone Siu, Reuters

As Beijing intensifies its efforts to further isolate Taiwan diplomatically, Taipei is actively, but discreetly, broadening security ties with regional powers beyond its long-standing relationship with the US.

From efforts to share intelligence on China’s military with India to the prospect of engaging Japanese experts in its indigenous submarine program, Taipei’s push has gradually begun bearing fruit, despite sensitivities surrounding relations with Taiwan, according to government officials, military attaches and diplomats.

As well as India and Japan, Taipei has targeted Australia and Singapore.

While the effort is being kept low-key to avoid further inflaming Beijing and adding to pressure on countries aiding Taipei unofficially, the moves mirror Taiwan’s more public New Southbound Policy to deepen commercial and cultural links with countries in South and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

It also comes amid several recent successes by China in luring away some of the few nations that diplomatically recognize Taiwan.

While Taipei battles to keep its remaining formal allies, it is keen to deepen strategic ties with larger regional powers, sensing an opportunity as they too seek to cope with a rising China, officials have said.

“We want Taiwan and those countries to have more in-depth understanding of the strategic or security environment we are in,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said.

As China grows more powerful and assertive, “many of these countries feel the pinch and they might want to know more about Taiwan as an interest to them, rather than something they want to avoid,” he said.

El Salvador last month switched ties to Beijing, while the Dominican Republic did so in May and Panama changed sides last year — leaving Taiwan with 17 diplomatic allies, six of which are small Pacific island states.

“None of the other regional powers will come close to what Taiwan is doing with the US,” Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies security expert Bonnie Glaser said. “But it is clear that there are intersecting interests, and that these are being actively explored.”

Washington, like other major powers, maintains a “one China” policy that thwarts formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, but remains by far Taiwan’s largest weapons supplier and most powerful international backer.

That relationship has been boosted under US President Donald Trump, whose administration is eyeing more weapons sales and is encouraging official exchanges.

According to US estimates obtained by Reuters, an average of 100 US officials, including military personnel, visit Taiwan each week.

Anecdotally, the intensity of interactions is rising under the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

While security ties with Tokyo, including some intelligence sharing, have been evolving for some time, Taipei’s ties with New Delhi are rapidly growing, according to people familiar with discussions.

Unofficial military attaches have been placed within Taiwan’s new de facto embassy, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India, while senior Indian military officers regularly visit Taipei on ordinary rather than official passports.

Taiwan also fields military attaches unofficially in Tokyo and Singapore, as well as Washington.

Taiwan’s knowledge of Chinese military deployments, including troop movements in the west of the country, are of particular interest, an Indian source said.

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