Vol. 2, Issue 12
The Global Taiwan Brief Volume 2, Issue 12
TPOSA Poll: Former Vice President Leads KMT Chairperson Race
By: Russell Hsiao
The Geopolitics of Losing Diplomatic Allies: The Case of Sao Tome and Principe
By: David An
Demonstrating Democracy: Regional Outreach and the Legacy of the Sunflower Movement
By: Anna Scott Bell
Taiwan’s Anti-Invasion Strategy: Elevating Defense Capabilities from Crisis to Wartime
By: Ian Easton
TPOSA Poll: Former Vice President Leads KMT Chairperson Race
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
With only less than a month to go before registration opens in the race for the next chairperson of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT), an opinion poll conducted by the Taiwan Public Opinion Studies Association (TPOSA, 台灣民意學會) found that 45 percent of those polled “supported” (支持) former vice president Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to become the party’s next chairman. Current Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) trailed at 21 percent, while former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-pin (郝龍斌) came in third with 17 percent, and 13 percent were undeclared. The poll, which was reportedly conducted on February 24-25 among 691 of the KMT’s approximately 1,600 party representatives, was unveiled at a press conference on March 17. The three other candidates: Steve Chan (詹啟賢), Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), and Tina Pan (潘維剛) received only 1 percent, 2 percent, and 1 percent of the vote, respectively.
The poll evaluated the six candidates’ capabilities based on five criteria (polling data available at (1)(2)), asking respondents to identify the candidate who is: 1) most experienced, 2) best able to unify the party, 3) most likely to lead the party back to power, 4) most suitable to serve as party chairman, and 5) most electable. Wu received 55 percent of votes in the category, “candidate with the most experience,” 48 percent for “best able to unify the party,” 48 percent for “most likely to lead the party back to power,” 53 percent for “most suitable to serve as party chairman,” and 43 percent for “most electable.” On the same set of criteria, Hung received 11 percent of votes in the category, “candidate with the most experience,” 11 percent for “best able to unify the party,” 14 percent for “most likely to lead the party back to power,” 15 percent for “most suitable to serve as party chairman,” and 16 percent of the vote for “most electable.” Similarly, Hau received 10 percent of votes in the category, “candidate with the most experience,” nine percent for “best able to unify the party,” 10 percent for, “most likely to lead the party back to power,” 11 percent for “most suitable to serve as party chairman,” and eight percent of the vote for “most electable.”
The TPOSA’s director is Huang Kuo-min (黃國敏), who is currently an assistant professor at the Department of Public Administration at Chuang Hua University. The founding director was Liang Shih-wu (梁世武), who is currently the executive vice principal of Shih Hsin University and a permanent member of the council at Chinese Youth International. The association conducted a prophetic poll in July 2015 that showed Tsai Ing-wen leading well ahead of her then-political opponent and current KMT chairwoman by about 19 percent in terms of support. Interestingly, the same poll reportedly indicated that only 42 percent of the voters who voted for former president Ma Ying-jeou in the 2012 presidential election supported Hung. Three months later, in an extraordinary vote at an interim session, KMT members voted to rescind Hung’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate. When confronted with the TPOSA’s poll results, the other candidates seemed undeterred. Asked by reporters to respond to the poll, former KMT vice chairman and health minister, Steve Chan, stated that he was “indifferent” (無所謂) and referred to Holland’s presidential election in which the frontrunner for president, who was leading in the polls by as much as 20 percent the month of the election, ultimately went on to lose.
Apparently not hiding his preference, former president Ma Ying-jeou appeared at a rally for Wu on March 18, declaring that the former vice president “will enable us [the KMT] to truly save the party.” This is the former president’s second public appearance at a KMT election-related event this year. Indeed, Ma participated at an event for Hau back in February. Both Hau and Wu represent the establishment wing of the Nationalist Party. Ma’s decision to only appear at the two candidates’ election events thus far seems to indicate his preference for the establishment wing of the party versus the anti-establishment candidates represented by current chairwoman Hung.
In a possible divide over policy among party members, KMT lawmaker Chen Ken-te (陳根德) was quoted in the Taipei Times as stating that the TPOSA poll results are “closely related” to the candidates’ cross-Strait policies, suggesting that the apparent preference for Wu signals a rejection of Hung’s more Beijing-friendly position. When referring to Hung, Chen said that “[o]ne of them supports the framework of ‘one China, same interpretation’… and proposed ‘seeking agreement on the one China principle, while shelving the different interpretations of one China’ when meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, which I believe runs counter to mainstream public opinion.”
The predictive value of such polls on how voters will actually behave on election day remains to be seen, and there are certainly others variables at play that could weigh more heavily on voter behavior. Yet, this is the first serious public opinion poll conducted on the KMT chairmanship election, and at the very least lays out one plausible scenario for what observers can expect in the May election. At most, the poll is significant, because it would indicate the return to power of the party’s establishment wing. After which, how the party will reconnect with the new mainstream of Taiwan’s democratic politics is another challenge facing it ahead.
The main point: Although a recent poll indicates that former vice president Wu Den-yih will likely become the next KMT chairman, it is still too early to conclusively determine who will become the next chairman of the party.
The Geopolitics of Losing Diplomatic Allies: The Case of Sao Tome and Principe
David An is a Senior Research Fellow at Global Taiwan Institute and previously a political military officer at the US Department of State.
After nearly two decades of formal recognition shared between Sao Tome and Principe and Taiwan, both sides abruptly dismantled their diplomatic relationship on December 21, 2016. The decision was surprising, because relations between the two former diplomatic allies were seemingly going well until the announcement. The impact on Taiwan’s diplomatic space of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) signing on two of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in just two months was significant in itself, but there are also overlooked sensitive geopolitics and global security implications.
Sao Tome and Principe’s recent break with Taiwan involves an especially complicated mix of diplomacy, politics, economics, and even personal ties among elites. In the background are the early stages of Beijing’s decision to renew “checkbook diplomacy” competition with Taiwan, demonstrated when The Gambia resumed diplomatic relations with the PRC in March 2016, three years after breaking official ties with Taiwan. One month later, Sao Tome and Principe did the same. In the foreground is Sao Tome and Principe’s rumored request for 200 million US dollars, which is said to have been declined by Taiwan. As mentioned in previous writings, it is an audacious amount for Sao Tome to ask for, as it equals roughly half of the total annual GDP of the entire country. There is even a small plot twist: Sao Tome and Principe President Carvalho’s two grown children are studying abroad in Taiwan, and the President’s daughter-in-law is Taiwanese.
In retrospect, it is unfortunate that the vibrant and supportive relationship between Taiwan and Sao Tome and Principe ended, especially since both sides accomplished a great deal together over the decades and helped each other immensely. For example, Taiwan’s health advisors, sent to Sao Tome and Principe over the past two decades, contributed to lowering the incidence of malaria from 50 percent to 1 percent today. According to local islander Milancia Fernao Dias, “[Taiwan] eradicated malaria. Before, it killed lots of us.” Taiwan has also sent medical teams and educators to its African partner. In turn, Taiwan’s diplomatic allies give it a voice in inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations.
Part of the reason for the break is likely the current political cross-Strait environment. In political science, “comparativists” speak of necessary and sufficient conditions. A necessary condition by itself may not be enough to cause a result, but must itself be sufficient, or coupled with a sufficient condition for an outcome to occur. The necessary but insufficient condition for Taiwan to lose diplomatic allies is Beijing’s resumption of diplomatic competition with Taiwan after nearly a decade-long truce. At the risk of sounding esoteric: If political competition was both necessary and sufficient, Taiwan would not have any allies anymore because by definition it alone would be enough to pull all allies away from Taiwan, yet it is only happening in a few instances so far.
The other part is economic. The sufficient condition is an offer of a large sum of money from China to Sao Tome and Principe in the form of deep-water port infrastructure investment. A year before the break, in October 2015, Sao Tome and Principe had already signed a 120 million US dollar memorandum of understanding with state-owned China Harbor Engineering to build a deep-water port. This is what finally brought Sao Tome and Principe out of Taiwan’s diplomatic orbit. However, money alone, though a sufficient condition, lacks the necessary condition of politics. It is no coincidence that both Sao Tome and Principe and The Gambia renewed relations with Beijing in 2016. The politics of a diplomatic truce between China and Taiwan over the past decade had previously deterred diplomatic changes based on purely economic considerations, but China is now less restrained.
What is easily missed at face value is how the economic aspect of Beijing’s calculations may also be intimately tied to security. On the one hand, Sao Tome and Principe has great economic ambition. The aforementioned port deal with China fits squarely with Sao Tome and Principe’s Prime Minister Trovoada’s dream of reorienting the country’s economy toward trade to become a major transshipment hub, like Dubai. Yet for Beijing, Sao Tome and Principe is potentially a piece on the chessboard of its global military power projection.
The PRC is conspicuously extending its “string of pearls” of military access to ports within its region and beyond, and it is likely to include Sao Tome and Principe. China’s submarines have held official visits to Malaysia. In the Middle East, early rumors of China building a naval base in Djibouti have become a reality. In South Asia, China’s nuclear submarine docked in Colombo’s civilian port (built using hundreds of millions of US dollars in Chinese investment and loans by the same China Harbor Engineering Company) though not a military port, which suggests that ports will have dual civil and military use for China. Similar events took place in the Maldives. In Namibia, the Minister of Defense Spokesperson, Lt. Col. Monica Sheya, confirmed that talks between Namibia and China have taken place regarding installing a PLA naval base in Namibia in the next 10 years. Likewise, China could have military-strategic plans for Sao Tome and Principe’s new port, although its location in the Gulf of Guinea is far more distant from China’s current naval activity throughout the East Asia, South Asia and Middle East regions.
Sao Tome and Principe Prime Minister Trovoada is already taking into account Chinese PLA use of the port in his country once it is built. However, he reassures concerned observers that that China’s military use of the port would have to overlap with the interests of Sao Tome and Principe, and its tradition of working with NATO. According to Trovoada, “Everybody has to be together to fight the threat of piracy, terrorism. If China comes to protect what I call common interests, then fine. If there is not a proportion between what they bring in terms of military force, then we need to question that.” It is uncertain how well Sao Tome can dictate and constrain China when the time comes, since the unequal relationship is one between an aid recipient/borrower and a donor/lender.
China and Taiwan’s diplomatic shifts may be more fluid than we expect. Taiwan had originally brought Sao Tome and Principe over from the PRC two decades ago, in 1997; now, Sao Tome and Principe is going back to the PRC, but the African country could find it advantageous to shift back to Taiwan yet again in the future. The next articles in this series will cover Taiwan’s grassroots approach to providing aid to its diplomatic allies, China’s use of economic incentives to entice Taiwan’s partners, and more on global security dynamics.
The main point: Taiwan and Sao Tome and Principe broke ties due to a confluence of political and economic reasons, yet there is also an easily overlooked security implication: China can strengthen its PLA Navy’s power projection capabilities by using this African island country’s strategic position, tucked in the Gulf of Guinea near Africa’s Ivory Coast.
Demonstrating Democracy: Regional Outreach and the Legacy of the Sunflower Movement
Anna Scott Bell is Program Associate at the Global Taiwan Institute and Staff Editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
Speaking at the Global Taiwan Institute on March 15, noted East Asia expert Richard Bush observed that the “demonstration effect” of Taiwan’s democracy can offer a critical counter-narrative to the cynical Beijing trope that the election of Donald Trump has fundamentally discredited democracy. While Bush was specifically addressing the situation of Hong Kong—a special administration region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)— its treatment under the “One-Country Two Systems” framework has always been salient for Taiwan. Thus, Bush’s assertion may be applied more broadly. As one of only a few mature democracies in the Asia-Pacific—and especially as the rare example of a peaceful transition from authoritarianism—Taiwan’s vibrant democratic culture has much to offer the region by example.
Indeed, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russell famously suggested that Myanmar look to Taiwan in making its own democratic transition, implying that the US envisaged the island playing this role. As we reflect on Taiwan’s student-led Sunflower Movement three years after it burst dramatically onto the domestic political scene, and especially as we evaluate its lasting impact, it is important to note that movement leaders have consciously embraced this responsibility, viewing it as part of their mandate.
Through its program of regional outreach, the Sunflower Movement has both lived and exported Taiwanese democracy. Political parties and advocacy groups with roots in the student protests have sought to make connections with like-minded groups and individuals throughout Asia; this has taken the form of both official exchanges, as well as ad-hoc mobilization around specific issues. For example, in January, the New Power Party (時代力量, NPP) hosted members of Hong Kong’s Demosistō Party (香港眾志)—entities birthed by the Sunflower and Umbrella movements, respectively—in Taiwan as part of an official exchange program. In addition, the newly-established Network of Young, Democratic Asians (亞洲青年民主網絡, NOYDA), founded by Sunflower Movement leader Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), has organized campaigns in response to perceived injustices in Vietnam and Thailand.
The extent and scope of these efforts demonstrate that the Sunflower Movement and its associated organizations are developing a highly-networked, activist infrastructure in Asia. Moreover, this outreach also shows that, contrary to popular portrayals and early evaluations, the Sunflower Movement and its offspring are not, fundamentally, ethnically or chauvinistically nationalist. That is, they should not be understood as deriving identity predominantly from opposition to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a group or a people, although they undoubtedly were initially mobilized by Chinese aggression, but should instead be understood as deriving identity from shared democratic values.
While this looks “nationalist,” because it takes pride in Taiwanese identity and eschews PRC meddling, it is a decidedly non-traditional, inclusive nationalism, which looks outward and builds coalitions irrespective of national or ethnic identity. Scholar Justin P. Kwan terms this type of orientation “civic nationalism;” it is ascriptive rather than prescriptive, and is premised on the choice to align with others across borders, based on shared democratic commitments—it is both concrete and transcendent. This is important, in that it is precisely because the Sunflower Movement was based in a specific national democratic culture—Taiwan’s—but ascribes to a progressive, international identity that it can serve as a useful political model for the region.
The students who participated in the Sunflower Movement were activated, in part, by a growing disillusionment with Taiwan’s political culture, which appeared to them to have ossified. However, while the movement was anti-establishment and oppositional, it also stands in the tradition of Taiwanese democracy, and could not exist apart from it. For example, Ming-sho Ho (何明修), professor at National Taiwan University, situates the resurgence of activism that took place under Ma Ying-jeou, in the waning institutional confidence produced during the prior administration. He writes, “In the later years of the DPP government, many activists learned that they should look beyond the government as the only leverage for change and started to explore new avenues.” Because modern-day Taiwan began as a one-party state, the necessity of alternative institution-building and social organizing has long been evident to those outside the ruling party (the Kuomintang, or KMT), and the resurgence of activism that emerged in the late 2000s quickly established an effective infrastructure and mobilization techniques. In other words, Taiwan’s recent political history provided both precedent and methodology for launching a successful opposition movement.
If Bush, Russell, and other outside observers have emphasized Taiwan’s role in disseminating democracy, the Sunflower Movement has been adept at translating this exhortation into both domestic and international realities. Through their 24-day occupation of the Legislative Yuan (LY) and post-occupation institution building efforts—most evident in the founding of the NPP—the “Sunflowers” offer a critical example of democracy in action, one only possible in the Taiwanese context. Furthermore, through the establishment of organizations like the Network of Young, Democratic Asians (NOYDA), legislative exchange programs with new parties like Demosistō, and participation in regional progressive, democratic movements, the Sunflower Movement and its alumni have engaged in the outreach and networking required for a model to become a pedagogical tool.
In the end, the Sunflower Movement should not be viewed simply or only as an anti-China movement. To whit: in a December 2016 editorial in the Washington Post by several movement leaders, they wrote of the protests and occupation, “[drawing] inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street movement, this was a protest against the collusion of business and political elites who threatened to sacrifice Taiwan’s sovereignty to enrich the 1 percent,” thereby locating themselves within the global progressive movement, rather than along the traditional blue-green divide. The Sunflowers’ opposition to the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) was seen as part of a broader political agenda, one that also advocated for environmental protections, the rights of indigenous peoples, bolstering social welfare, constitutional and legal reform, and other issues. In other words, the Sunflower Movement was first of all a pro-democracy movement, seeking to preserve the political, economic and social space in which to push a progressive agenda.
For Taiwan and for the region, preserving space for robust democratic engagement will necessarily mean resisting the reach of Beijing’s long arm. Consequently, the long-term success of the Sunflower Movement and its regional outreach efforts will be largely measured by how well its networked groups throughout Asia are able to thwart the PRC’s authoritarian influence. As Kwan observes, “In the context of Hong Kong and Taiwan, the emergence of civic nation[alism] has occurred through the rejection of a Beijing-centered ethno-Chinese nationalism and the valuing of democracy and freedom under the norms of a largely democratic international system.” If the Sunflower movement has indeed been a catalyst for a youth-driven “civic nationalism” committed to democratic, progressive governance in Asia, this resistance will have been its most powerful legacy. That this should have emerged from an anti-establishment protest movement is an additional testament to the vibrancy, maturity, and resilience of Taiwanese democracy.
The main point: The Sunflower Movement was first of all a pro-democracy movement, seeking to preserve the political, economic and social space in which to push a progressive agenda. For Taiwan and for the region, preserving space for robust democratic engagement will necessarily mean resisting the reach of Beijing’s long arm. Consequently, the long-term success of the Sunflower Movement and its regional outreach efforts will be largely measured by how well its networked groups throughout Asia are able to thwart the PRC’s authoritarian influence.
 By “ethnically or chauvinistically nationalist” I refer to an attitude of popular, chauvinist superiority, rather than national pride and explicit repudiation of Chinese attempts to influence or control Taiwan. In making this distinction, I rely on Fang-yu Chen and Wei-ting Yan, in their article, “Who Supports the Sunflower Movement? An Examination of Nationalist Sentiments,” which appeared in the Journal of Asian and African Studies (2016): 1-20.
Taiwan’s Anti-Invasion Strategy: Elevating Defense Capabilities from Crisis to Wartime
Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and author of the forthcoming book: The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia.
Various sources from within the People’s Republic of China have allegedly suggested that time is running out for Taiwan’s democracy. In their narrative, China’s iron-fisted leader, Xi Jinping, is “losing patience” and could order the invasion of Taiwan in the early 2020s. The world’s most dangerous flashpoint might witness an overwhelming amphibious blitz, perhaps before July 2021 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
That’s the narrative. The reality is that China will probably not attack Taiwan in such a radical and high-risk fashion. Xi and his top lieutenants are far more likely to draw-out and escalate the war of nerves across the Taiwan Strait. They will continue using disinformation and other techniques to drain Washington’s confidence that Taiwan can be defended, while ramping up subversive activities to undermine the island nation’s confidence and willpower.
Xi will bide his time and hope the Taiwanese government cracks under mounting pressure, allowing him to conquer his target cheaply. At the same time, his military generals will continue planning and preparing to deliver on their “sacred” mission. Coercion could easily fail, making invasion a tempting option―especially in a future scenario where the balance of power looks more favorable to Beijing than it does today.
Assessing the Threat
The ever-tense political and security environment across the Taiwan Strait necessitates an accurate depiction of PLA capabilities, strengths, and shortfalls.
The PLA’s strengths are more apparent than its weaknesses. China’s military muscle is frequently highlighted and hyped up by the media, both in Beijing and abroad. Undoubtedly, China’s ballistic missiles, cyber warfare capabilities, and counter-space weapons make it a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps even more dangerous are its espionage and covert actions abroad to shape foreign policymaking.
But there is always more to the story. Renowned Naval War College professor, Andrew Erickson, makes it clear in his recently published book, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding that, while Beijing’s fleets are growing at a remarkable clip, the PLA Navy is not ready to support the invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese navy still lacks the lift capacity and the air defense capability it needs. Nonetheless, the situation will almost certainly look very different tomorrow than it does today.
Dennis Blasko, author of The Chinese Army Today, observes that the CCP’s ground forces, like the navy, are not yet ready for the ultimate fight. For invasion to be a realistic option, China would have to have far more helicopters, paratroopers, special operators, amphibious mechanized divisions, and marines. Moreover, the PLA would need to build a solid non-commissioned officer corps and provide better training to unit leaders up and down the entire chain of command. Much of this work has already begun and will start to bear fruit over the next decade.
Taiwan’s Anti-Invasion Strategy
So how do Taiwanese military experts plan to defend their country against attack, and how can the United States help?
Taiwan is at the tail end of a transit from a conscription force to an all-volunteer military. Building an elite force of professional warriors is a good thing. It gives Taiwan a comparative advantage. China has no national army and relies mostly on short-term draftees.
According to a recent RAND Corporation report, Taiwan could augment its all-volunteer military with elite reserve force units, further enhancing its ability to counter Chinese threats in the electromagnetic, air, and sea domains. Taiwan’s armed forces could also benefit from new training opportunities. Bilateral training exercises and joint humanitarian missions with the U.S. military would give Taiwan a much-needed shot in the arm.
Modern wars are increasingly decided not by brute force, but by brainpower. This can only be harnessed with advanced training. One of Taiwan’s primary defense goals is to prepare the island for the shock of a lightning war waged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Doing so requires highly-motivated personnel who are organized, trained, and equipped to meet an enemy invasion campaign with overwhelming resistance.
The asymmetry of size and economy across the Taiwan Strait requires defense planners on the island to harness every aspect of power, bringing a wide range of latent capabilities to bear when needed. Taiwan’s all-out defense strategy calls for mobilizing the entire country, gearing-up every able-bodied man and woman in support of anti-invasion operations.
As Lauren Dickey of King’s College London points out, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) is constantly honing its ability to repulse Chinese invasion. Every year, the MND conducts intensive national and local-level military exercises, testing and sharpening plans to defend the island in the event of enemy landings.
It is estimated that Taiwan will have approximately four weeks’ advanced warning of a Chinese invasion. Given China’s skill in the dark arts of strategic deception, this cannot be taken for granted. Yet, the vast scale of the PLA’s envisioned amphibious operations necessarily means its offensive intentions would be foreshadowed.
Warning signs would include troop movements, reserve mobilization, industrial stockpiling, military drills, media signaling, diplomatic messaging, and sabotage against Taiwan. The most obvious and worrisome sign would be the gathering of massive fleets of civilian and naval vessels at known amphibious staging areas in southeast China.
As all this was playing out, Taiwan’s president, her cabinet advisers, and parliamentary leaders would debate their response options. They would weigh intelligence pouring in from radars, satellites, listening posts, and agents in China. Their most obvious option would be to increase readiness levels and mobilize the island to gun-down an enemy attack.
It would not take long to mine the maritime lines of approach across the Taiwan Strait, nor to fortify invasion beaches, ports, and airstrips. It would take only slightly longer to man all inland key points like bridges and power stations, and to evacuate non-essential personnel from potential battle zones. But accomplishing this would require a colossal workforce in the form of mobilized army reservists and contractors. For this reason, Taiwan maintains the ability to mobilize up to two and a half million men and women, and nearly one million civil defense workers in just a few days’ time.
Tests of the emergency mobilization system are carried out on a yearly basis at sites across Taiwan, Penghu, and the outer islands (Kinmen and Matsu). Their results are impressive. They indicate that citizen-soldiers will muster at marshalling posts in extraordinary numbers and at rapid speeds.
Taiwan’s all-out defense mobilization plan entails more than just bringing latent military capabilities into action. The Cabinet Office (Executive Yuan) and its subordinate ministries, such as the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of the Interior, and Ministry of Economic Affairs (among others) all play a role in the integration of civil defense units for homeland defense.
The Way Forward
Taiwan’s government and military (like the rest of Taiwanese society) are far tougher than they get credit for. But they can only do so much by themselves. The Pentagon has a critical role to play in assisting Taiwan maximize its war fighting capabilities. With America’s help, Taiwan can make sure its defense investments factor into Beijing’s calculations and, hopefully, prevent a future invasion from occurring in the first place.
The RAND report suggests the establishment of a joint working group, led on the U.S. side by an assistant secretary of defense. Indeed, Taiwanese forces would benefit from new types of professional military education and technical training in the United States. American mentors could support Taiwan’s continued transit to a potent all-volunteer force and help create a more strategically-focused reserve force.
Taiwanese troops also need regular and dependable arms sales, something that unfortunately was denied them by the Bush and Obama administrations. For Taiwan, the positive operational and tactical effects of American weapons systems are indisputable. The Trump administration should offer Taiwan the same capabilities it is offering Japan and South Korea, including new stealth fighter jets, missile defense batteries, and destroyers.
In addition, American companies should be unchained by Washington, allowing them to compete for access to Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Submarine program. Even more important than firepower would be the huge morale-boosting effects such material support would have on recruitment and retention on the island―and the powerful signal of purpose and resolve it would send to China.
Taiwan’s military has developed a solid defense plan and is cultivating a force of professional warriors. But the grave invasion threat facing the island is growing over time. Keeping pace with China’s offensive power will be extremely difficult unless big changes are made to the way America does business in Asia.
Going forward, the Trump White House would do well to develop a new strategy for advancing U.S.-Taiwan relations. Making sure Taiwan has the strong self-defense capabilities it needs will help keep the globe’s greatest powder keg from ever igniting. Ignoring the China problem would only make it worse.
The main point: To counter PRC efforts at disinformation and other techniques meant to drain Washington’s confidence that Taiwan can be defended, the United States should establish a joint working group, led on the U.S. side by an assistant secretary of defense; make regular and dependable arms sales to Taiwan; and allow unrestricted competition for Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Submarine program.
(This article was originally published by Asia Eye on March 7, 2017.)