INTERVIEW: Wolfowitz praises Taiwan’s democratic legacy

Former US deputy secretary of defense and current US-Taiwan Business Council chairman Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, sat down with 'Taipei Times' staff reporter J. Michael Cole in Taipei on Saturday night to discuss US arms sales, China and the future of Taiwan

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 - Page 3

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.

Obviously the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] would want a different approach to cross-strait ties, but I don’t think [DPP Chairperson] Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would want a repeat of the bad experience of the Chen period.

TT: What is it that the Chen administration did wrong?

PW: I think just too much provoking the mainland [China] with the idea that they were inching in the direction of independence. That’s the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] red line and it does not improve Taiwan’s security to keep agitating that red line.

TT: Surely you’re referring to Chen’s second term. In his first term, Chen made a series of promises on no declaration of independence or revisions to the Constitution, and his administration did try to engage Beijing, but got little reciprocity. Aren’t accusations that Chen was too ‘radical’ a bit unfair?

PW: In this respect I may show that I was distracted by a couple of small wars that we had underway, [but] as a matter of fact, this is more [US] State Department business than [US] Department of Defense. But I don’t think the US side handled its side of it terribly well either.

There could have been a little more understanding of Chen’s situation.

TT: What do you make of the National Security Council ‘leak’ to the ‘Financial Times’ when Tsai was visiting the US last month, in which a US official said a DPP win in next year’s elections would be destabilizing?

PW: It was inappropriate and I don’t know what factual basis they were basing this on. As an American official I would be very careful about taking sides in a democratic election.

It’s a rare thing to do, and it’s rarely a good thing to do. I don’t know what they had in mind. I find it clumsy and surprising.

TT: What would be the strategic impact of a Taiwan that becomes part of China, especially if China were to build military bases on Taiwan?

PW: My concern is preserving peace here. If what you’re describing happened peacefully, we would have to live with it.

I do hope they wouldn’t go so far as to build military bases here, but if they did, we’d live with it. I don’t think it would be so terrible.

TT: Any movement on free-trade talks between the US and Taiwan?

PW: I have a feeling that maybe they can finally move on the beef issue after the election.

The passage of the [South] Korean FTA [Free Trade Agreement] has been very healthy. The Koreans now have a competitive advantage over Taiwan and this makes these folks [Taiwanese officials] nervous, which is useful, and they’ve demonstrated that they are capable of putting the beef issue behind [them].

I’d like to see progress on the TIFA [Trade and Investment Framework Agreement], but realistically it’s not going to happen until they address the beef issue.