Vol. 2, Issue 25
The Global Taiwan Brief Volume 2, Issue 25
Russell Hsiao: Prepared Oral Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
By: Russell Hsiao
Marriage Equality in Taiwan: Challenges Ahead (and Behind)
By: Fang-Yu Chen
Successes and Opportunities in US-Taiwan Cooperation on Satellite Technologies
By: Elsa B. Kania
House Hearing: “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Ties”
By: Matt Schrader
Russell Hsiao: Prepared Oral Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
On June 15, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held a public hearing entitled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Ties” in which GTI’s executive director, Russell Hsiao, testified as an expert witness. The text below are his remarks as prepared for delivery. The full text of his written testimony is available here.
Thank you, Ranking Member Sherman and Chairman Yoho, for inviting me to testify before the subcommittee. This is truly an honor for me to be a part of this important and timely proceeding with my co-panelists, whom I deeply respect.
My oral testimony today is a summary of my submitted written testimony. The views I express in this testimony are my own.
It has been over a year now since this subcommittee last held a hearing on Taiwan and a lot has happened since then. I would like to point out three clusters of developments for this subcommittee’s consideration.
First, President Tsai Ing-wen’s historic election in January 2016 as the government’s first female president sets a positive standard for other democracies worldwide. Her administration celebrated its one-year anniversary on May 20. In addition to electing a female head of government, Taiwan’s Supreme Court recently issued a landmark ruling that invalidates a civil code provision prohibiting same-sex unions. This act further raises Taiwan’s profile in the league of progressive and liberal nations.
According to the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, which monitors freedom and democracy worldwide, Taiwan ranked third most free in the Asia-Pacific, only behind Australia and Japan in its “Freedom in the World 2017” report. While no democracy is perfect, democratization has had a moderating effect on Taiwan’s fractious politics, clearly illustrated in the measured policies of the current ruling government and through the opposition-Nationalist Party chairperson election last month.
On the cross-Strait front, political relations between Taipei and Beijing have cooled as the PRC refuses to deal with the Tsai administration unless she accepts the so-called “1992 consensus.” While formal channels between the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office and Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council remain shut after Beijing froze government-to-government dialogue back in June 2016, functional channels for coordination between different government agencies remain open.
As a Chinese-speaking democracy, Taiwan has a unique role to play in China’s future. But that role must not come at the expense of the freedom and democracy that the people of Taiwan have fought for and now enjoy. The chilling case of the detained human rights activist, Lee Ming-che (李明哲)—who has been in detention in the PRC since March 19—throws into the sharp relief the impact that China’s non-democratic system has for Taiwan and its people—and also for Hong Kong. As the 2014 student-led protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong illustrate: what happens in Taiwan has a demonstration effect on Hong Kong, and what happens in Hong Kong has a demonstration effect on Taiwan.
Foreign Relations & Diplomatic Space
Despite Taipei’s measured approach to cross-Strait relations, Beijing fired the first salvo that reignited cross-Strait tensions only one month after Tsai Ing-wen was elected president.
In February 2016, the PRC resumed diplomatic ties with Gambia; in December 2016, São Tomé and Príncipe switched diplomatic recognition; in January 2017, Nigeria announced that it was demoting ties with Taiwan by forcing Taipei to move its representative office from Abuja to Lagos.
Panama’s announcement just Tuesday that it has switched diplomatic relations to the PRC is the latest in a series of escalatory steps in Beijing’s enhanced pressure tactics against Taiwan that include economic, military, and also diplomatic coercion. It was only a matter of time before Beijing pulled the trigger despite the Tsai administration’s pledge to maintain the “status quo” in cross-Strait relations.
Taiwan’s informal ties with countries like the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and Singapore are now more important than ever as Beijing squeezes Taiwan’s international and diplomatic space further. Specifically, more efforts need to be made to upgrade Taiwan’s ability to engage the international community by including Taiwan in not only bilateral but also multilateral exchanges to offset Beijing’s coercive full-court press on Taiwan’s international space. Obstructionist behaviors include: blocking Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, INTERPOL, ICAO, and even a process for combatting blood-diamonds.
Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy
In part as a strategic effort to rebalance its foreign relations and economy, the Tsai government has reinvigorated a long-standing policy to diversify its economic outreach, which is currently heavily concentrated in China, to the growing markets in the Indo-Pacific. Through an all-of-government approach, Taiwan is attempting to forge closer economic links as well as deepen people-to-people ties with 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australasia. The new plan is also the natural outgrowth of demographic trends on the island, as more immigrants come to the country and with more children born of mixed marriages. And just as the United States looked towards Asia in the former administration’s pivot/rebalance strategy, Taiwan is also looking south to capitalize on the growing markets and strategic importance of the region.
Against the backdrop of a growing military imbalance in the Strait, Taiwan has embarked on ambitious measures to strengthen its indigenous defense industries and capabilities. Taipei just released a new military strategy through the Quadrennial Defense Review and reformulated its defense strategy. As a percentage of total government spending, Taiwan currently spends up to 15 percent on defense, and in March, Taiwan’s minister of national defense said that military expenditures would be increased, in an effort to the proverbial 3 percent of gross domestic product target in 2018. In this context, it is worth at least asking ourselves why, in the absence of a mutual defense treaty, does the US demand that Taiwan spend an arbitrary 3 percent of its GDP on defense while expecting less of her other allies and security partners?
Second, we now have a new president in the United States; an unorthodox president who has not only shown that he will not be held back by unnecessary diplomatic norms, but has also demonstrated a willingness to question policy dogmas, and has expressed a penchant for unpredictability.
As president-elect, Trump made an important gesture by taking a congratulatory phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen in December 2016. This is the first time that the leaders of the United States and Taiwan have spoken by phone, at least since 1979.
For a conversation that lasted no more than 10 minutes and mainly involved an exchange of niceties, the blowback was disproportional and underscores the fragility, as well as complexity, of the US-Taiwan-China relationship.
As the Chairman noted in his opening statement, all of this is occurring against a backdrop of growing regional uncertainty about the current administration’s policies, strategy, and priorities.
The administration has identified North Korea’s nuclear program as the primary threat in East Asia. In its effort to apply “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang to denuclearize, President Trump is clearly attempting to re-enlist the support of Beijing to use its leverage over North Korea to stop its provocations. Interestingly, others experts have noted that while Beijing’s leverage over Pyongyang is significant relative to the United States’ and Japan’s because the two have little to none, Beijing’s actual leverage over Pyongyang is, however, perhaps very little. The fact that North Korea has launched 16 missiles in 10 tests so far in 2017 may be evidence of that lack of leverage.
Therefore, any anticipation of what a tradeoff may bring in terms of actual results must be measured by a dose of realistic expectation of what China can and is willing to do. While there is no evidence to indicate that the administration is considering such a move, I would simply note as caution for the administration to avoid entertaining this seductive idea that has no legs.
Defense Secretary James Mattis’ statement at the Shangri-La Dialogue reaffirming US defense commitments to Taiwan based on the TRA was a step in the right direction. More can and should be done.
Third, rather than reciprocate Taipei’s overtures, Beijing is ratcheting up pressure against Taiwan. Rather than talk to Tsai, Xi has focused on courting a weakened opposition, applying economic pressure on Taiwan to foment domestic discontent, and squeezing Taiwan’s international space in a full-court press to coerce Taipei into submitting to the PRC. The effect has been counterproductive to Beijing’s stated aim to resolve the issue peacefully. While its objective remains the same, there have been some interesting developments related to Beijing’s approach to Taiwan that include appointment of non-Taiwan experts to senior positions in the broader Taiwan policy apparatuses, diversionary tactics in the East China and South China Seas, and the use of coercive economic tools.
While many things are happening, very little has changed in terms of actual US policy towards Taiwan. However, the PLA’s unprecedented and massive military buildup, growing economic leverage, diplomatic coercion, alongside regional uncertainty over US staying power in the region, is leaving Taiwan more susceptible to PRC coercion than perhaps ever before, and thus presents a risk to peace and stability in the Western Pacific.
Set against the region’s geostrategic uncertainty and increasing pressure on the alliances, the United States needs an integrated approach that leverages diplomatic, military, and economic tools to strengthen relations with Taiwan and maintain its capacity to help Taiwan resist PRC coercion. This integrated approach requires a mix of hard and soft power to strengthen alliances and partnerships, reduce uncertainty, and minimize miscalculation by all sides.
It is necessary to restore a consistent, high-level, and reliable process for how the United States engages with Taiwan on arms sales that will have the effect of reassuring our friends in Taiwan of US commitment, not only to Taiwan, but to regional allies and partners. A clearly stated objective of soft balancing to shore up the sovereignty gap in the Taiwan Strait would ensure lasting peace in the Taiwan Strait. Lastly, strategic accommodation of China, especially over Taiwan, would be a strategic mistake. Outsized expectations of China’s leverage with regard to reining in North Korea could disproportionately lead to a miscalculation of tradeoffs that would seriously damage US credibility with few gains.
The confluence of these factors brings me to my overall recommendation on the urgency of a gradual recalibration of US policy towards Taiwan.
First, especially in the aftermath of the break in diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Panama, I wish to commend Ranking Member Sherman and other distinguished members of this committee for passing the Taiwan Travel Act. The current approach of conditioning the execution of US law and policy on Beijing’s reaction in effect leads to creeping deference to Beijing’s “One-China” principle, and the PRC should not be allowed to dictate how the United States conducts its informal relations with Taiwan.
Second, the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF), launched in 2015, is a critical mechanism for enhancing Taiwan’s international space. It should be expanded and adequately resourced. Functional cooperation with Taiwan is apolitical and Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the international community and the benefits it bestows upon the rest of the world must not be allowed to be curtailed by the PRC’s calculated politicization of Taiwan’s international space.
Third, the PRC’s massive military buildup across the Strait and its continued refusal to renounce the use of force against Taiwan is a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area. While the United States has managed to deter Beijing from taking destructive military action against Taiwan over the last four decades because the latter has been relatively weak, the risks of this approach inch dangerously close to outweighing its benefits. Greater clarity on the U.S. commitment to defending Taiwan is critical for purposes of deterrence and stability. As the PLA grows stronger, a perceived lack of commitment by the United States to defending Taiwan may further embolden Beijing to use force to resolve the Taiwan issue.
Fourth, in the face of Secretary of State Tillerson’s comments downplaying the role of American values in foreign policy decisionmaking, Congress could reassert the importance of shared values in American foreign policy since “the foundation of US-Taiwan relations is our shared values—our commitment to democracy, civil liberties, and human rights.”
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, President Ronald Reagan’s Six Assurances are necessary but no longer sufficient. Renewed assurances for Taiwan are needed in this period of growing uncertainty. Much has changed since the Six Assurances and other non-papers were issued back in 1982. In conjunction with the original assurances, renewed assurances could, as former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver wrote—among other things—make clear that preserving Taiwan’s democracy is in the interest of the United States; honor the TRA; not pressure Taiwan into negotiations with the PRC; not support an outcome that does not enjoy the support of the majority of the free people of Taiwan; and not “co-manage” the Taiwan issue with the PRC.
Ranking Member and Mr. Chairman, thank you again for this opportunity to testify before this subcommittee.
Marriage Equality in Taiwan: Challenges Ahead (and Behind)
Fang-Yu Chen is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Michigan State University. He is also the co-editor of the website “Who Governs TW.”
On May 24th, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, stating that the provision in the Civil Code, which only allows a man and a woman to wed, violated constitutional guarantees for same-sex unions. The historic decision is paving the way for Taiwan to become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex unions. Consequently, Taiwan is receiving significant attention from the global media and many marriage equality supporters are commending Taiwan as a beacon of human rights and LGBTQ equality in Asia. Yet, curiously, progress on the marriage equality front seems to have had little or even a negative impact on the approval rate of President Tsai Ing-wen and her government.
Both Pro and Against Camps are Dissatisfied
In her presidential campaign, then-candidate Tsai explicitly expressed support for marriage equality. However, after the 2016 elections, the Civil Code amendments for marriage equality (民法修正草案or 婚姻平權法案) moved slowly through the legislative branch. Several Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) heavyweights, including the party whip Mr. Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), opposed the reform and preferred a civil union law that provides fewer legal rights for gay couples. The government, for its part, dragged its feet in drafting an amendment to the Civil Code until after the ruling of the Constitutional Court. In the historic public hearing of the marriage equality case in the Constitutional Court on March 24th, the representative of the government, Minister of Justice Mr. Chiu Tai-san’s (邱太三) arguments against gay marriage were almost categorically refuted by the honorable justices. Therefore, people who support marriage equality, especially among the younger generations, appear to blame President Tsai for moving too slowly to fulfill her promise. According to these supporters, this failure to act left significant opportunities for the mobilization of the opposition.
Groups against legalizing same-sex marriage have also been active. In particular, the Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan (台灣宗教團體愛護家庭大聯盟，護家盟), created in 2013 and led by evangelical Christian groups, has successfully organized several large rallies and stimulated public opposition against the legalization of same-sex marriage. Opposition groups have also organized various non-governmental organizations in the name of parents, guarding filial values, protecting children, and correcting sex education. Recently, these groups have targeted gender equity education at all levels of schools. These groups are resourceful and able to buy commercials on mainstream media and lobby legislators at both the local and national levels. As a result of such mobilization and anti-marriage-equality campaigns, conservative citizens—especially those who value the traditional filial values—warn that the Tsai administration should not pass a “controversial act.” One can often hear the typical reactionary opinion, “[the] government should deal with important issues, especially economic development (拚經濟), instead of progressive reforms” (see, e.g., this piece).
Historical and Structural Factors in the Opposition
In the past decade, religious anti-LGBTQ groups have tended to be associated with the pan-blue parties, as the Nationalist Party elites often publicly support traditional values. However, public opinion on same-sex marriage has less to do with party identity in general. The cleavage occurs along age cohorts and regional differences. More than 80 percent of people under age 30 are supportive of marriage equality (this is also the post-martial-law generation that tends to support more liberal values). Northern Taiwan also tends to be more amenable to liberal values than Southern regions, the DPP strongholds. The regional difference may be a result of multiple factors, including more opportunities for exposure to cosmopolitan values via education, media, and social movements, and the degree of industrialization.
Furthermore, a more ingrained obstacle for marriage equality within the ruling DPP stems from opposition in the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church and long-term pro-Taiwan activists. While Christians only consist of about 6-8 percent of the population in Taiwan, church leaders were historically significant participants in politics, and their opinions are thus influential to politicians. In particular, in the authoritarian era, the Presbyterian Church played a major role in the social movements for democratization and became a core support group of the DPP. Because most Christian elites oppose marriage equality, legislators and local politicians fear that they will lose financial and mobilization support from these allies if they support marriage equality. Besides the Church elites, several major leaders of the democratization movements and/or the “deep-green” pro-Taiwan activists also oppose the amendment of the Civil Code (e.g., Lin Yi-hsiung) and prefer a civil union law with fewer legal rights for the gay couple. The opposition from the DPP’s core supporters and heavyweights is thus the largest challenge for President Tsai.
Implications of the Obstacles
Taiwanese party politics have always been centered on Taiwan’s relationship with China, so debates between progressive and conservative ideologies have never been the most salient issue.. However, the cleavage on marriage equality is not determined by pro-Taiwan or pro-China attitudes. This can be seen as a positive development, as Taiwanese society may be transforming traditional or conservative ideologies into something new. But the cross-cutting cleavages mean that the anti-reform camps have more opportunities to mobilize people with different ideological positions. Considering that the conservative generations hold power and resources, one can never take for granted that the trend of liberal values will prevail.
Although prominent international media outlets, human right groups, and activists in neighboring countries have all been inspired by the achievements for LGBTQ rights in Taiwan so far, the government is still delaying the process of legalizing same-sex marriage. Legislator You Mei-nu (尤美女), one of the leading promoters of marriage equality, moderated the Consult Among Parties (立法院黨團協商), a legal process in the legislature, on May 31st. However, the Ministry of Justice still refused to endorse the marriage equality bills in the Legislative Yuan. Although the Secretary-General of the Executive Yuan, Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶), is leading a special session (同性婚姻法制研議專案小組) for drafting the amendment, they only promised to draft a bill within the two-year deadline articulated by the Court, and seem unwilling to fulfill the campaign promise of President Tsai promptly.
On balance, President Tsai may have missed her opportunity to take credit for the promotion of marriage equality. In particular, the mobilization of opposition groups to the LGBTQ community has led to the accusation that the government has been too passive in protecting and promoting the rights of minority groups. At the same time, conservative groups have accused Tsai of destroying traditional values, and link her low approval rates with policies that engender social controversy. Just like various kinds of progressive movements and activism, there is no royal road to achieving the last mile of reform.
The main Point: Taiwan could become the first country in Asia to achieve marriage equality, but it has led to a backlash from conservative groups, which undermines President Tsai’s prestige.
Successes and Opportunities in US-Taiwan Cooperation on Satellite Technologies
Elsa Kania is an analyst focused on the Chinese military, defense innovation and emerging technologies.
This is the first in a series of articles focused on case studies of opportunities for US-Taiwan cooperation in the scientific and technological domain.
Despite the complexities of geopolitical circumstances, US-Taiwan cooperation on space technologies has consistently remained a productive channel of engagement with the potential for continued progress. Although Taiwan’s space programs and organizations have received relatively limited analytical attention to date, these initiatives have achieved considerable advances. Notably, the FORMOSAT-3/7 and COSMIC-1/2 programs present successful case studies of the promise and potential of such cooperation. Looking forward, the United States and Taiwan should build upon their history of collaboration in this scientific domain to pursue opportunities for future cooperation.
Taiwan’s Space Programs and Organizations
Since the 1990s, there have been significant advances in the sophistication of Taiwan’s space programs and the associated research and development. Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO, formerly the National Space Program Office), established in 1991, has successfully implemented three satellite programs, FORMOSAT-1, 2, and 3, and is currently pursuing the FORMOSAT-5 and FORMOSAT-7 space missions. In addition, Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) has played an integral role in advancing Taiwan’s defense technology, including the SG100 space computer used for its low-orbit satellites and experiments in space, synthetic aperture radar systems used on satellites, etc.
Successful US-Taiwan Space Cooperation
For the United States and Taiwan, space-related cooperation has been particularly productive in the joint development of satellites with clear benefits for meteorology and climatology. FORMOSAT-3, or the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC), was the first US-Taiwan collaboration, involving a partnership between NSPO and the National Science Foundation. The program has placed six micro-satellites into low earth orbit (LEO) since 2006. Similarly, FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2 is an ongoing US-Taiwan collaboration, involving NSPO and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop a constellation of 12 microsatellites, with applications including weather and climate monitoring. Through enhancing data collection capabilities, FORMOSAT-7 will similarly support global scientific efforts in climate monitoring and research. This collaboration has occurred in the broader bilateral context of extensive cooperation in science and technology, for which there have been over 200 hundred bilateral agreements signed as of the end of 2016.
Beyond these cooperative programs, Taiwan has also developed its own indigenous satellite, the FORMOSAT-5, an earth observation satellite on track to launch in the third quarter of 2017, which will be used for remote sensing. The launch of FORMOSAT-5, initially scheduled for February 2016, has been delayed due to challenges with the SpaceX launch schedule (and the explosion during a September 2016 test), and has since been rescheduled for the third quarter of 2017. In the meantime, Taiwan has quietly relied upon Japan’s satellite services, until FORMOSAT-5 can take over the remote sensing imaging mission of FORMOSAT-2, which has started to malfunction. To date, the United States and Taiwan are not known to have cooperated on remote sensing satellites, perhaps due to the dual-use nature of these systems.
Constraints on Cooperation
Despite the record of successful cooperation to date, the complexities of the US-Taiwan relationship have imposed some constraints on space program collaboration, especially with regard to systems with potential military applications. For instance, there has been speculation that the United States may have discouraged NSPO’s long-term plans to develop an indigenous satellite launch capability, due to concerns that the potential military applications of the technologies in question could antagonize Beijing. The initial plans to create the Taiwan Small Launch Vehicle, which would have been built indigenously by CSIST, do not appear to have progressed. Potentially, as J. Michael Cole has reported, US opposition to the plan could have been hardened by CSIST’s involvement, since CSIST was also responsible for the development and production of the Hsiung Feng-IIE (HF-2E) land-attack cruise missile.
Options for Future Cooperation
Looking forward, US-Taiwan space cooperation might focus on several different domains, building upon existing collaborations, such as the COSMIC-1/2, and addressing critical challenges for Taiwan.
- Taiwan has already started to contribute to NASA’s moon-mining project, Resource Prospector, and such expeditions to exploit resources in space could present the potential for a long-term cooperative agenda. At present, Taiwan’s CSIST is building a $47 million lunar lander, to be delivered to NASA by the end of 2018, that will carry a rover designed to excavate hydrogen, oxygen and water from the moon. As China increasingly focuses on the exploitation of natural resources in space, the United States and Taiwan might consider expanding this initial collaboration into a more expansive agenda to enable the utilization of space-based resources.
- As the United States remains focused on the challenge of maritime domain awareness in Asia, the United States and Taiwan might expand cooperation on this issue, as Ian Easton and Randall Schriver recommended in their report “Standing Watch: Taiwan Maritime Domain Awareness.” In particular, as their report suggests, the United States might focus on supporting Taiwan’s efforts to enhance its advanced early-warning radar systems, including space tracking capabilities. However, cooperation on this issue, as on any dual-use capabilities, could provoke concerns over the potential sensitivity.
- The United States might also support Taiwan’s efforts to enhance the resilience of its existing and future space systems against Chinese counterspace threats, including through techniques to harden and enable the maneuverability and distribution of existing and future systems. Looking forward, the United States and Taiwan might also build off on successful US-Taiwan cooperation on microsatellites to pursue more distributed space systems architectures.
The main point: US-Taiwan cooperation on space technologies has been a productive channel of engagement that has the potential for continued progress. The United States and Taiwan should consider building upon their history of collaboration in this scientific domain to pursue opportunities for future cooperation, including on the utilization of space-based resources, the enhancement of maritime domain awareness, and the improvement of space systems’ resilience against counterspace threats.
House Hearing: “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Ties”
Matt Schrader is an intern at GTI and will begin an MA in Asian Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service this fall.
On June 15, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held a public hearing entitled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Ties.” The text below provides a summary of the testimonies by Rupert Hammond-Chambers and Dan Blumenthal.
In a June 15th hearing of the United States House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific entitled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening US-Taiwan Ties,” lawmakers from both sides of the aisle demonstrated that, in contrast with the partisanship on display in much of current American politics, defending Taiwan’s flourishing democracy remains a deeply bipartisan cause. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chair of the full House Foreign Affairs Committee, typified the sentiments of members in stating that “it is more important than ever to reassure Taiwan of the US’s commitment to the relationship.” Subcommittee members heard testimony from Global Taiwan Institute Executive Director Russell Hsiao (see editor’s column, this issue), along with Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute and Rupert Hammond-Chambers of the US-Taiwan Business Council, on a range of issues, with a particular focus on securing Taiwan’s future in the face of an “an increasingly aggressive and hegemonic PRC” by strengthening ties in both security and trade, and US assistance to Taiwan as the island seeks a voice on the international stage.
Members and witnesses alike were virtually unanimous in calling attention to arms sales as an area of concern, a reflection of Congress’s more forward-leaning stance on the issue in recent years, in comparison with the executive branch. Mr. Hammond-Chambers went so far as to characterize the shift from regular to bloc sales as “a material US commitment in free fall,” although he, the subcommittee members and Mr. Blumenthal all recognized that the slowdown was, to some extent, a reflection of Taiwanese concerns around the potential financial impact of buying high-end weapons platforms, with Mr. Blumenthal adding the significant caveat that, while “Taiwan does not always demonstrate an adequate urgency about the threats it faces, [the US doesn’t] always provide them with the opportunity to do so.”
With the overall political environment in both the United States and Taiwan now moving in a direction potentially more favorable to further arms sales, ranking subcommittee member Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked for the witnesses’ views on Taiwan’s most pressing needs, were a sale of arms platforms to occur, including their view on the utility of including the F-35 in any arms package. Mr. Hsiao emphasized that Taiwan’s own defense establishment has determined that “they have a need for the F-35s based on exercises they have conducted on an annual basis in order to execute the missions that they assess as necessary in order to deter the People’s Liberation Army,” while Mr. Blumenthal contrasted the expense of the F-35 with the need for Taiwan to acquire weapons systems that are “survivable, dispersible, [and] mobile,” suggesting that UAVs, UCAVs, and diesel submarines could be fruitful areas for future Taiwanese military investment. Mr. Hammond-Chambers likewise emphasized in his written and oral testimony the desirability of the Trump administration inviting Taiwan to participate in the F-35 program, both from a strategic and a trade standpoint.
Taiwan’s security concerns are closely tied with the PRC’s ongoing push to deny the island nation a voice and recognition in international fora. The hearing was held two days after Panama’s derecognition of Taiwan, and lawmakers were eager to hear what the United States could do to blunt the effectiveness of the PRC’s campaign, and win Taiwan representation in international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho (R-FL) highlighted the impact of Taiwan’s participation on the international public health community’s efforts to combat disease by pointing to the role of Taiwanese researchers in combating the 2003 SARS epidemic. When asked by the chairman what the US could do, Mr. Hsiao pointed out that a tool for promoting Taiwan’s international representation already existed: the Global Cooperation and Training Framework, a cooperative mechanism established between the US and Taiwan in June 2015 with the aim of strengthening joint US-Taiwan outreach to third countries across a number of sectors, particularly public health, environmental protection, and regional development. Mr. Blumenthal, in an exchange with the ranking member, made the point that Taiwan’s accession to the WTO was negotiated in such a way that it could serve as a model for Taiwanese entry into a number of international organizations that do not include statehood as a precondition for membership. When asked by Rep. Sherman “why does China work so hard in their effort to … keep Taiwan out of organizations, membership in which does not establish sovereignty?” Mr. Blumenthal’s reply was direct: “Because they [the PRC] get very little pushback.”
The hearing followed immediately after the subcommittee’s markup of H.R. 535, the Taiwan Travel Act, a House resolution expressing “the sense of Congress that the United States Government should encourage visits between officials from the United States and Taiwan at all levels”, and both subcommittee members and witnesses noted the important role that facilitating travel by high-level Taiwanese officials to the United States, up to and including the Taiwanese president, could play in strengthening ties between the two countries and boosting Taiwan’s international profile, both at the symbolic level, and in the very practical way it would allow for more substantive government-to-government interactions. To this end, Mr. Hammond-Chambers also suggested that Congress might encourage the executive branch to separate those functionalities wherein one individual’s duties encompass both the PRC and Taiwan, with the idea that doing so would allow for a more robust representation of Taiwan within executive branch decisionmaking processes.
The hearing also touched, albeit in somewhat less depth, on issues of trade and tourism. Although several witnesses and members mooted the idea of a US-Taiwan free trade agreement, there was less consensus on this than in other areas, with Rep. Sherman expressing on several occasions his preference that any such agreement contain provisions to reduce the US’s trade deficit with Taiwan, a deficit which Rep. Yoho noted in his closing remarks had been cut in half as a percentage in recent years. In response to a question from Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), whose district includes Las Vegas, asking how the United States might encourage more inbound tourism from Taiwan, Mr. Hammond-Chambers suggested that increased advertising on the island could boost the visibility of locales such as Las Vegas as desirable tourism destinations.