Vol. 2, Issue 14
The Global Taiwan Brief Volume 2, Issue 14
Taiwan-Singapore Resumption of Ship Visits Raises Profile of Mil-Mil Relations
By: Russell Hsiao
Trump-Xi Summit and the Folly of a Fourth Communique
By: Dennis Halpin
A US Diesel Submarine Renaissance Would Be a Boon for Taiwan Navy
By: James Holmes
Taiwan-Singapore Resumption of Ship Visits Raises Profile of Mil-Mil Relations
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
A Taiwan-based media outlet, UP Media, recently reported that Singapore may be a port of call for Taiwan naval vessels in this year’s overseas exercises by the Dunmu Fleet (敦睦艦隊). The mission of the fleet is to conduct long-range exercises, port calls, and humanitarian evacuations. The last time that Taiwanese naval vessels were permitted to conduct a ship visit in Singapore was in 2002. Due to Beijing’s sensitivities over any form of diplomatic contact with the Taiwan government, including its military, such activities have always been treated with a great deal of caution by officials in Taiwan and host countries. Indeed, the destination ports of call by the fleet are rarely disclosed in advance, due to concerns that Beijing will apply diplomatic pressure to prevent such events from occurring.
The Dunmu Fleet is currently comprised of the fast combat support ship AOE 532 Panshih (磐石), Chengkung-class frigates PFG1109 Chang Chien (張騫), and the La Fayette-class PFG1203 Si Ning (西寧). In the past eight years, the number of friendly ports visited in each year’s exercises varied between as few as three to as many as 10. Destinations included allied ports such as the Marshall Islands, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Palau, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu, as well as non-allied ports such as Indonesia. This year marked the first time that the Taiwan president participated in the fleet’s ceremonial send off on March 21.
The Taiwan Navy began conducting port calls as early as 1953 and consistently on an annual basis since 1965. According to media reports, it was the Singaporean government that initiated the offer for Taiwan’s naval vessels to visit. While port calls by Taiwan naval vessels to Singapore are not unprecedented, this would be the first since 2002. Indeed, Singapore has reportedly been a port of call for Taiwan’s naval vessels 24 times since 1973. The surprise move by the Singaporean government followed a tense two-month-long standoff between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Singapore over Beijing’s decision to seize an AV-81 Armored Personnel Carrier and other military supplies transiting through Hong Kong that were used in the annual joint military exercises between the Taiwan and Singapore militaries.
The nine Singapore-bound armoured military vehicles and equipment were seized in transit by Hong Kong customs officials on November 23 and was not returned to Singapore until two months later, on January 27. According to a Bloomberg report citing Singaporean Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan, “This is not the first time Singapore ships equipment from Taiwan through Hong Kong.” The report added, “The fact this particular consignment was picked up shows China wants to ‘send a signal not only to us, but to all’ Southeast Asian nations. China’s long-term strategy is to turn Singapore into an ally and ‘mouthpiece’ for its positions,” according to Kausikan.
Singapore has been careful in the handling of its relations with Taiwan, because of concerns about Beijing. However, its informal relationship with Taiwan—which began in 1990 after derecognition—belies a long history of military-to-military contacts as well as a strong and growing relationship between Taiwan and Singapore. An annual training exercise codenamed “The Starlight Project” (星光計畫) dates back to 1974, in which Singapore reportedly sends around 20,000 troops on a yearly basis to Taiwan participate in the exercise. Moreover, Singapore and Taiwan signed a tariff reducing economic partnership agreement in 2013, which represents the first such agreement signed between Taiwan and a member of ASEAN.
While Beijing has tried albeit unsuccessfully to get Singapore to switch its military training exercises in Taiwan to the southern island of Hainan, Beijing ostensibly tolerated the arrangement between Taiwan and Singapore. Perhaps to express its displeasure with the Tsai government’s cross-Strait policies, the PRC has begun to pressure other countries to downgrade their relations with Taiwan. The seizure of the military vehicle and equipment may be seen as its shot across the bow to Singapore. If the reports of the port call are true, Singapore’s willingness to publicize the port visit may be intended to send a signal to Beijing over its heavy-handed tactics and seizure of military equipment.
Media speculation of the reported port visits are unconfirmed as of this writing. However, as Beijing flexes its muscles in the region, it has prompted other countries in the region to deepen its relationship with Taiwan. A resumption of the port visit would be consistent with the upgrades underway in several of Taiwan’s other important unofficial relationships, such as those with Japan, India, and the United States.
The main point: Port calls by Taiwan naval vessels to Singapore are not unprecedented, the reported resumption of the port visit may be intended to send a signal to Beijing against its heavy-handed tactics and its handling of the Hong Kong incident.
Trump-Xi Summit and the Folly of a Fourth Communique
Dennis Halpin is a visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins University). He previously served as an analyst in the INR Bureau at the State Department and on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives as an adviser on Asian issues, from 2000 to 2013.
President Donald Trump will be hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day visit on April 6-7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. As speculation boils over what will be discussed at the first-ever Sino-American summit of the new Trump Administration, there has been a flurry of rumors that a fourth communique may be in the works.
A fourth communique has long been a goal of Beijing, which views the previous three communiques as the gospel upon which to base US-Chinese relations on the unsettled issue of Taiwan. Beijing, naturally, chooses to ignore the Congressionally-mandated Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and President Reagan’s Six Assurances as being essential elements in the formulation of US policy toward Taiwan.
None of the three previous communiques proved particularly auspicious for Taiwan, the US’s traditional ally and global partner. The first, known as the “Shanghai Communique” and signed in 1972, has been viewed by many as a game changer since it ended two decades of isolation and hostility between Washington and Beijing following the Korean War. Henry Kissinger noted in his best-selling work, On China, that “normally communiques have a short shelf life. They define a mood rather than a direction. This was not the case with the communique that summed up Nixon’s visit to Beijing.” Kissinger goes on to describe the at-times contentious and delicate deliberations over the Taiwan issue that went into the drafting of the Shanghai Communique, which he negotiated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) before President Nixon ever set foot in China. Kissinger notes in his memoir that, “principle and pragmatism thus existing in ambiguous equilibrium, Qiao Guanhua (喬冠華) and I drafted the last remaining section of the Shanghai Communique. The key passage was only one paragraph, but it took two nearly all-night sessions to produce.”
The key language included: “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” The Shanghai Communique, the formulator of the so-called “One-China” policy, is thus often cited as effectively taking the “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” solutions off of the table. As Taiwan has evolved in the decades since into a prosperous democracy with a growing sense of an identity apart from China, this first communique appears to represent a limitation on future possibilities.
January 1, 1979, the day President Jimmy Carter signed the second communique, normalizing diplomatic relations with the PRC and cutting off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, is still remembered as a dark day in Taipei. It immediately triggered a bipartisan Congressional effort to reaffirm an American commitment to the people of Taiwan. This led just three months later, in April 1979, to the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The TRA codified vigorous, continuing, unofficial commercial and cultural relations between the people of Taiwan and the US. The TRA also provided for the provision of “defense articles and defense services” from the US to ensure Taiwan could “maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” and considered any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a “grave concern” to the United States.
The third communique, energetically put forward in 1982 by Kissinger protégé, Secretary of State Al Haig, indicated the intent of the United States to gradually decrease arms sales to Taiwan. Its issuance required an almost immediate course correction, in which President Ronald Reagan sent the Six Assurances to Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo in July 1982. These assurances included steadfast commitments that “the United States would not mediate between Taiwan and China” and that “the United States would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.” The Senate and the House both passed resolutions reaffirming the Six Assurances during the 114th Congress in 2016.
Beijing may be seeking a fourth communique as an intricate part of the increased assertiveness it has displayed in a number of regional territorial disputes, including maritime issues in the vicinity of Taiwan. Additionally, President Xi Jinping has adopted a far more impatient demeanor on the Taiwan question that will likely put it on the agenda when Chinese leaders hold discussions with the Americans.
Xi has previously verbalized hardline views about Taiwan. The South China Morning Postquoted Xi as stating that China’s Communist Party would be overthrown by the people if it failed to properly deal with Taiwanese pro-independence. Xi also reportedly stated that, “from the position of Chinese people’s nationalism, 1.3 billion people on the mainland would not agree to Taiwan’s formal independence.” In addition, China may work to amend its “Anti-Secession Law,” which was issued in 2005 and legalizes the use of force if Taiwan crossed certain red-lines it defines.
Furthermore, noted Hong Kong journalist Willy Lam reported in 2015 that, following the historic meeting of then Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou with Xi Jinping in Singapore, Xi may have a shorter timetable on Taiwan than was previously believed. Lam wrote that, “Xi, who is likely to remain China’s top ruler until the 21st Party Congress in 2027, hopes that at the very least, ‘political and reunification talks with the Taiwan leadership’ will have begun well before he leaves the scene.” Xi’s goal, then, in pursuing a possible fourth communique with the Trump Administration, may be to seek to win American acquiescence in an eventual “one country, two systems” solution or in another political accommodation on Taiwan. This would be doing what Secretary Tillerson said would never happen at his Senate confirmation hearing: treating the people of Taiwan as a “bargaining chip” as President Trump seeks the “art of the deal” with Xi on a number of contentious issues like trade and North Korea. Any such bargaining would, of course, involve a clear violation of Reagan’s Six Assurances and the “grave concern” clause of the Taiwan Relations Act.
In Chinese, the number four is considered unlucky because it is pronounced similarly to the word for “death.”The United States already has three communiques with Beijing, which have not been to the advantage of America’s old friends in Taiwan. A fourth communique is not only unnecessary but would be counterproductive, and perhaps dangerous, at this delicate stage of shifting power balances in the East Asian region.
The main point: A fourth communique has long been a goal of Beijing, however, any such bargaining could involve a clear violation of Reagan’s Six Assurances and the “grave concern” clause of the Taiwan Relations Act.
 Henry Kissinger, On China (London: Penguin Books, 2012), 267.
 Ibid, 271.
A US Diesel Submarine Renaissance Would Be a Boon for Taiwan Navy
James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific (second edition forthcoming 2018). The views voiced here are his alone.
America’s naval expansion could constitute Taiwan’s opportunity.
President Donald Trump went on record last year favoring a 350-ship US Navy. The US Navy (USN) itself has called for a 355-ship fleet, and has commissioned three “Future Fleet Architecture” studies to postulate different visions of the fleet’s shape and size. The navy leadership is now pondering the competing studies, formulated by the Navy Staff, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and the MITRE Corporation. After weighing the analyses’ respective merits, the naval leadership will compile an official recommendation to inform congressional deliberations.
The common denominator among the views voiced thus far is the belief that the US Navy needs more ships, aircraft, and armaments. Assuming lawmakers go along with the Trump administration’s eventual proposal, the Navy will bulk up by roughly one-third from today’s 275-ship force. To make the budgetary figures work out, fleet designers will place a premium on affordable yet lethal platforms that can be procured in great numbers.
Diesel-electric submarines comprise one such platform—as the MITRE report emphasizes. MITRE representative Sunoy Banerjee put the idea to the US House Seapower and Force Projection Subcommittee earlier this month: “our thought was, base them forward—base them in Guam and Japan or in the Baltics—so they are close to the fight … this is a way of actually increasing the size of the submarine force relatively cheaply—because our back-of-the-envelope math suggests you can get three diesels for the cost of one Virginia,” referring to the US Navy’s state-of-the-art Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack subs.
Washington might do even better than that: the price tag for Japan’s Soryu class, widely heralded as the world’s finest large diesel sub, comes to almost exactly one-fifth that of a Virginia-class boat. Going this route would suggest a strategic vision for Asia: the US and Japanese Navies could create a combined fleet of Soryus (or some other common hull, perhaps a Soryu derivative), station them permanently in Japan under a combined command, and make them the nucleus of an island-chain defense force. That would reassure Japan, other allies, and other friends that America is in Asia to stay. And it would telegraph a powerful signal to China about allied fortitude and prowess.
To deter Beijing from aggression, that is, the allies must menace its capacity to use the China seas and Western Pacific. Since the 1950s, Japanese submariners have made themselves expert at regulating east-west movement through the straits piercing the first island chain, as well as north-south movement along the Asian seaboard. Think about what a larger US-Japanese force employing such tactics could do.
This is where Taiwan comes in. If American and Japanese shipbuilders jointly manufactured a diesel sub design for the US Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, why could it not manufacture eight more boats for the Taiwan (ROC) Navy? The George W. Bush administration offered Taipei eight diesel boats back in 2001. Yet, industrial capacity worries came into play. No American yard has constructed diesel-driven subs since the 1950s, and no foreign government was prepared to incur Beijing’s wrath by transferring such a craft. That, plus the vagaries of Taiwan’s domestic politics—mainly KMT stonewalling of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Chen Shui-bian’s initiatives in the Legislative Yuan—relegated the deal to limbo.
This could be a unique moment to rescue the deal. China has erred. Its overbearing conduct in the East and South China Seas may be overcoming governments’ reluctance to peeve the Voldemort of Asian politics. Consider how the political stars have aligned: China is giving Asian countries reason to make a common cause. An administration devoted to rebuilding US naval might has taken office in Washington, where the president’s party also holds Congress. A government determined to restore Japan to the ranks of normal states holds power in Tokyo. Both the presidency and the legislature in Taiwan are now under DPP control in Taipei. Accordingly, proposals dismissed not long ago as whimsical for political reasons might get a fair hearing in allied and friendly capitals, as well as in Taipei itself.
To be sure, there are no guarantees that a combined fleet will soon be roaming the deep. Even if Washington and Tokyo agreed on the principle, myriad details would remain to be sorted out—what design to use, where the boats would be built, and so forth. Sorting them out could slow the process of fielding a combined fleet.
The US Navy, furthermore, could oppose any procurement of diesel subs, and thus indirectly scuttle any arrangement with Taiwan. That the US “silent service” should be an all-nuclear force has been an article of faith among submariners for decades. And lawmakers might view relatively cheap conventional submarines as a substitute—rather than a supplement—to the nuclear-powered fleet. Submariners, consequently, might view them as a threat to the acquisition of nuclear boats.
In light of such impediments, Taiwan must press ahead with President Tsai Ing-wen’s recently announced plan to design and build eight boats at Taiwanese yards. Cultivating multiple options only makes sense for Taiwan’s navy.
How would the ROC Navy use a subsurface contingent after acquiring one? Consider maritime strategy from local, then regional viewpoints: From the micro perspective, Taiwan’s armed forces need to deter Chinese aggression. A modern eight-boat contingent would advance that goal substantially. Today, the Taiwan Navy’s undersea flotilla consists of two Dutch-built boats of 1980s vintage and two World War II-era antiques that are no longer combat-capable. Indigenous Taiwanese subs remain years off at best, especially since this represents Taiwanese shipbuilders’ first foray into undersea warfare. Multiplying the number of battleworthy boats by four—and doing so sooner than Taiwan could on its own—would open new tactical and strategic horizons for naval commanders.
Considering the rigors of maintenance, overhaul, and crew training, a navy operating close to home can count on having roughly half its vessels ready for action at any time. With four subs ready for sea rather than one, Taiwan’s Navy could dispatch patrols outside the Taiwan Strait while still guarding the Strait against a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) amphibious assault. It could mount a forward defense off mainland seaports. It could even free up an enterprising skipper or two of those four to make trouble for Chinese shipping wherever they saw fit—and, by sowing uncertainty in Chinese minds, bolster prospects of deterrence.
In short, Taiwan could replicate China’s “anti-access/area-denial” (A2AD) strategy in the island’s nautical environs, ratcheting up the costs to China of aggression against the island—and it should! The logic of anti-access will work on Taipei’s behalf in maritime Asia, just as it works on Beijing’s behalf throughout the Western Pacific. Turnabout is fair play.
Now, the macro perspective: While it remains doubtful the allies will fully integrate their battle strategies with Taiwan’s, fielding a common submarine type up and down the first island chain would enhance the navies’ capacity to coordinate their endeavors while waging war separately. Common hardware, tactics, and methods for war in the depths—including communication hardware and methods—would help submariners work together quietly. For instance, knowing whose subs were prowling where would help navies manage their efforts in crowded waterspace. Assuring friendly navies assail hostile shipping while avoiding fratricide is no small thing.
Countless factors—an outcry within the United States against buying foreign military merchandise, inertia within the nuclear-only US submarine force, lingering worries about what China might do, and on and on—will work against a diesel-centric multinational fleet. But such a venture makes sense on the operational, strategic, and political levels; its day may have come.
The main point: China is giving Asian countries reason to make a common cause. American and Japanese shipbuilders should jointly manufacture a diesel sub design for the US Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, and Taiwan Navy. Proposals dismissed not long ago as whimsical for political reasons may now get a fair hearing in allied and friendly capitals.