Taiwan Strait close to being ‘epicenter of crisis’: analyst

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

Fri, Oct 18, 2013 - Page 3

The Taiwan Strait may be on the verge of becoming an “epicenter of crisis,” a new paper by Dean Cheng (成斌), a China expert at the Heritage Foundation China, says.

“This is not to suggest that a cross-straits conflict is imminent,” Cheng says.

Published this week, China and Taiwan: Possible Storm Signals for Cross-Straits Relations Underscore Need to Provide for Taiwan’s Defense says the growing economic relationship between China and Taiwan has served to promote political dialogue and strengthen trade ties.

However, Cheng argues that a “militarily overwhelming People’s Liberation Army [PLA]” would be able to intimidate and coerce Taiwan which would in turn have political and economic implications.

Two public statements highlight the potential return of tension to the region, he says.

First, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) saying that the political divide between the two sides needed to be closed and could not be “passed on generation to generation.”

And second, the conclusion by Taiwan’s new defense white paper that the PLA may be able to successfully invade the nation by 2020 if current military and security trends continue.

Cheng notes that the white paper says the steady modernization of the PLA, including its expanding portfolio of anti-access/area denial capabilities “jeopardizes the ability of the US to intervene” if the PLA attacks Taiwan.

In an earlier paper, Cheng said that the administration of US President Barack Obama had failed to sell Taiwan new advanced combat aircraft or offer “ameliorative steps” to address the island’s defense needs.

“Such delay will only spark uncertainty about America’s resolve to meet its global commitments — uncertainty that will only further embolden an already confident China,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, a paper published this week by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) focuses on the role arms imports play in the procurement budgets of strategically significant East Asian states.

“The role defense imports play in China’s military modernization process has sharply declined, reflecting the robust defense industry that China has gradually developed over the last decade,” the paper says.

By way of contrast, the paper says that Taiwan “features a large degree of volatility in its foreign arms dependency.”

This holds “significant implications” for international security, the paper says.

“Taiwan’s heavy reliance on the United States for arms purchases makes Taiwanese arms imports extremely vulnerable to disruption, which can occur due to either Taiwanese or US domestic politics or international pressure,” the center’s paper says.

“This presents a significant obstacle to long-term Taiwanese defense planning,” it says.