US President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia may bolster Taiwan’s security, but the nation must do more to defend itself, a Washington conference was told this week.
“Apathy kills,” US Naval War College strategy professor James Holmes said.
“The pivot’s capacity to dissuade or defeat China hinges on whether US Navy relief forces can reach the island’s [Taiwan’s] vicinity, do battle and prevail at a cost acceptable to the American state and society,” he said.
“This is an open question — but one that Taiwan’s armed forces can, and must, help answer in the affirmative,” Holmes told the conference on Taiwan and the US’ Pivot to Asia held at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
In the case of an attack by China, Taiwan must show a “vigorous hand” in its defense rather than passively awaiting rescue, he said.
“Otherwise, it may stand alone in its hour of need,” Holmes said.
He added that Taiwan must think of itself as a partner, as well as a beneficiary, of the US “strategic pirouette.”
Holmes said that Taipei’s performance is “suspect” in both military and diplomatic terms.
Defense budgets, he said, were a rough gauge of political resolve and they have dwindled from “already meager levels.”
Only by conspicuously upgrading its defenses, could Taiwan’s leadership help a US president justify the costs and hazards of ordering increasingly scarce forces into battle against “a peer competitor,” he said.
University of Miami professor June Teufel Dreyer said that although the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese had expressed a desire not to unify with China, the absorption of Taiwan into China “may be reaching a de facto if not a de jure tipping point, past which reversal is impossible.”
If this was the case, she said, it was difficult to see how the US could gain any advantage from incorporating Taiwan into a pivot that was aimed at constraining China.
At the same time, Taiwan’s military and intelligence bureaucracies had been infiltrated by Chinese operatives and it did not make sense to sell advanced weaponry “to a country that would transfer it to America’s most likely adversary,” she added.
Dreyer added that Taiwan’s current government seemed to favor gradual incorporation into China, whether formally or informally, and that would be disadvantageous to the US.
“Taiwan cannot count on the US to guarantee the security of a Taiwan whose administration seems to be encouraging its incorporation into China,” she said.