Pundits have busied themselves in the past week trying to determine whether a decision by Taipei to renegotiate US beef imports with Washington will have implications on US security commitments to Taiwan. Already, an unexpected delay in US President Barack Obama’s weapons sale notification to Congress — which had been expected soon after Obama returned from climate talks in Copenhagen last month — had prompted speculation that Washington may be tying economic matters to political ones and retaliating for the about-face.
Not only is it too soon to tell, but 60 years of US-Taiwan ties have shown that Washington, at least in Taiwan’s case, is capable of treating economics and politics as separate matters — as they should be. Likelier explanations for the delay are the conflicting interests of the State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House, as well as Obama’s balancing act with Taipei and Beijing and efforts to avoid derailing cross-strait rapprochement.
Washington handles diplomacy in multi-track fashion in that it usually rewards and punishes within related sectors. As such, it retaliates on trade with trade, and on military matters with military matters, with little cross-pollination.
Failure by Taipei to demonstrate that it takes its own defense seriously, as opposed to freeloading on US security guarantees, would be one way to invite US retaliation on arms sales. Lack of participation in non-proliferation efforts, which were somewhat undermined last month when British intelligence linked Taiwanese private firms to the sale of sensitive equipment to Iran, would be another. US beef, however, isn’t a deal-breaker on defense issues — however strongly some US policymakers feel about the matter.
The US also expects its allies to share the security burden. Nowhere has this been clearer than in Afghanistan, where US generals have made plea after plea on NATO and non-NATO allies to do more. After nine years of counterinsurgency, not only are most Western countries threatening to pull their troops, but the country remains on the brink of collapse. Facing this, the US — which is sending substantial reinforcements this year — will likely turn to those who have yet to play a role in the war-torn country to do their part.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Washington would ask Taiwan to play a role in Afghanistan. Last week, a source in the Ministry of Defense told the media that the US wants Taiwan to provide medical or engineering assistance to troops there. This request is not unprecedented: During the Gulf War in 1991, Taipei offered US$300 million toward the war effort, which Washington turned down after pressure from Beijing. More recently, Taiwan has provided medical assistance in Iraq.
Afghanistan is the story of our time, as its future direction will have a direct impact on international security. No country, however isolated, will be unaffected if the US-led alliance fails to avert Afghanistan’s implosion — not even Taiwan. As a wealthy country that has profited from the US umbrella for decades and as the world’s 20th largest military by spending, Taiwan must contribute to global stability, which would not go unnoticed in Washington.
By answering the call, Taiwan would also gain precious combat experience; in Afghanistan, there is no such thing as a non-combat position. With the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration cutting down on military exercises, combat experience would provide invaluable training — the type of training that could make a difference if Taiwan were attacked one day.
Taiwan must step up to the plate, otherwise it may be kicked out of the game altogether.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has