Monday, April 23, 2012

Michael O’Hanlon, “One China, Two Governments,” and Taiwan’s Defense

During a recent conference hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research and reported in the Taipei Times, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution asked the audience to consider if the US needed to “weaken” its defense commitment to Taiwan. Consideration of weakened defense commitment presumably would entail a thoughtful review of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). O’Hanlon asks if U.S. “strategy for the defense of Taiwan” has the ability to survive for another decade or two.” He also commented on perceived asymmetry of interests between America and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and injected a personal view, saying “China cares more about Taiwan than we do — it’s just a fact.”

Michael O’Hanlon is a talented and esteemed defense policy analyst, and his call for greater creativity in deliberate war planning is dead on. However, his “dramatic” question – whether or not the US needs to weaken its defense commitment to Taiwan – could be reframed in order to better focus public attention.

How to Best Align U.S. Policy With Objective Reality?

The key question we should be asking is this: How could U.S. policy toward Taiwan best reflect a more accurate representation of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait? An unintended consequence of a thoughtful review of the TRA is the introduction of alternatives. When compared side by side, normalization of relations with both sides of the Taiwan Strait -- the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) -- is more consistent with US interests than abandonment of principles through repeal of the TRA. The more the Beijing and its supporters push for abrogation of the TRA, and by extension full adoption of the CCP position on sovereignty, the more attention should be directed toward the most viable alternative -- normalization of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Taiwan, under its existing ROC constitutional framework, exists as an independent sovereign state. The status quo today is the existence of two sovereign, independent states on both sides of the Taiwan Strait with overlapping territorial claims embedded in their constitutions – authoritarian PRC and democratic Taiwan. Taiwan is a state by any accepted definition of customary international law and practice. Millions of residents from the island carry a passport that says “Republic of China (Taiwan),” a democratically elected government that controls an area the size of Maryland, Delaware, and Rhode Island combined. Taiwan has a convertible currency, a capitol, and the capacity to make and respect international commitments. Taiwan has been one of America’s top 10 trading partners and a critical node in the international high tech supply chain. Anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time on Taiwan and in China can sense the two sides are as different as the United States is from Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia.

“One China, Two Governments” as the Alternative to Abandonment

Dual recognition in the Taiwan Strait is unlikely but possible within the context of a “One China” policy since the PRC and ROC constitutions can be interpreted as having overlapping territorial jurisdictional claims. In other words, “One China” is embodied in constitutional overlap. Between the Conlon Report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of 1959 and the UN seat issue of 1971, the mainstream U.S. policy and academic community viewed dual recognition as in the best interest of the United States. Former National Security Advisor to President Nixon, Henry Kissinger, operated in isolation from this community, and it’s an uphill battle to recover from the colossal mistake that he still tries to glorify. He sacrificed the dual recognition option in favor of short term political expediency related to Vietnam and Nixon’s flailing public image.

Under a “One China, Two Governments” formula, the United States would continue to abstain from supporting either side’s territorial claim. Normalization of U.S.-ROC relations would not undermine a “One China” principle any more than our dual recognition of both Germanys during the Cold War. Dual recognition would not imply support for de jure Taiwan independence, and nor would it foreclose the option. Issues of independence or unification should be left to both sides of the Taiwan Strait to work out between themselves. If the two sides of the Taiwan Strait decide to unify at some point in the future, that result should be welcomed as long as it is uncoerced. And Taiwan independence should not be ruled out as a viable outcome as long as the process is peaceful.

KMT, DPP, and “One China, Two Governments”

The only reasonable and enduring solution for stable, constructive ties with both sides of the Taiwan Strait is dual recognition. Would both KMT and DPP Central Committees oppose or support normalization of US-ROC relations? Fundamental areas of consensus exist between the KMT and DPP on key policy issues. Normalization would be a dream come true for the KMT and Ma administration, but they can not openly push it. It’s possible that they could push ROC sovereignty if Beijing steps up its campaign in Washington for a “thoughtful review” of the Taiwan Relations Act. Short of that, making trouble with both Beijing and Washington at the same time would be disastrous. Many senior KMT members thought Chiang Kai-shek’s refusal to push for such an arrangement in the lead up to the UN vote in 1971 was idiotic (see Jay Taylor’s fascinating bio of Chiang Kai-shek on this issue). Oddly enough, hardline nationalists in the DPP could undermine a move within Congress in favor of normalization if it implied Taiwan is part of “One China,” regardless of how loosely “China” is defined.

Yet political competition leads toward a natural tendency of both sides to paint the other in the darkest hue of Blue or Green as possible. Americans should understand democracy and this tendency. But they often buy into pan-Blue rhetoric that casts the DPP as crazed troublemakers intent on sacrificing every drop of American blood for Taiwan independence. And they often buy DPP rhetoric that the KMT is pro-China, which is implied to be synonymous with pro-Communist. The KMT dropped any reference to unification in their 2009 revised party charter. In 2009, Chinese observers slammed Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou as “mianli cangzhen” or “hiding a needle in cotton,” and a “dutai fenzi,” advocating an independent Taiwan. An “independent Taiwan” is defined as advocating shared sovereignty, coexistence of equal entities with each side having its own administrative jurisdiction that is not subordinate to the other, and a status quo calling for “mutual non-denial,” and highlighting unification as an option but not inevitable.

As a consensus on Taiwan regarding sovereignty solidifies, political leaders in Beijing may find themselves forced to come to grips with an objective reality. If CCP authorities are sincere in their desire to arrive at some sustainable political solution, then the party's cross-Strait policy has to change in a fundamental way. In this environment, DPP supporters could play the loyal opposition in a DPP/KMT good cop/bad cop effort, and push dual recognition in the name of the ROC. The US side could even negotiate a U.S.-ROC Joint Communique to enshrine a “One China” policy in bilateral relations if needed. Or maybe even a fourth US-PRC Communique!

Another Core Question

For the cost of one PAC-3 missile, another fundamental question that the Obama administration or Congress could pose to federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), public think tanks, and America’s best and brightest China scholars for serious study is this:

How to best persuade the CCP Central Committee Standing Committee to accommodate objective reality and relate to Taiwan as an equally legitimate member of the international community?

Even Hu Jintao said “under One China, anything is possible.” Taiwan is undeniably a state within any conventional use of that term in common parlance or international law. Yet Taiwan is not recognized by much of the international community due to subjective interpretation of potential effects that dual recognition could have on relations with the PRC. 

So under what conditions would leaders in Beijing accept the ROC as a legitimate equal to the PRC, and how could America help make this happen? Maybe the answer is that normalization of U.S.-ROC relations would only come with utter and complete collapse of the CCP’s monopoly on power. Regardless, one should be careful about assuming China cares more about Taiwan than we do until a much better accounting of complexities, costs, and opportunities.

Taiwan is Defensible

Final comment. Because Taiwan’s democratic system of government – an alternative to mainland China’s authoritarian model -- presents an existential challenge to the CCP, the PLA continues to rely on military coercion to compel concessions on sovereignty. CCP success in alienating Taiwan legitimizes its reliance of coercive military power to resolve political differences around its periphery.

As one recent article notes, Taiwan is a core interest of the United States and has a pivotal role to play as an ad hoc coalition partner in U.S. defense policy and the strategic rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific. Michael O’Hanlon asserts that U.S., Taiwan, and other defense establishments in the region may weaken relative to China. PLA anti-access, area denial (A2/D2) capabilities are getting good. But not that good. The PLA Joint Theater Command directing an amphibious invasion campaign is a complex system. Like any system, vulnerable single points of failure exist. Properly equipped, trained, and backed as needed by a U.S. Joint Task Force, Taiwan is and will remain defensible. The basis of O’Hanlon’s assertion that Taiwan, with U.S. intervention, would over time be unable to defend against an amphibious invasion is unclear.

END

Monday, March 5, 2012

Chinese Provincial Leader Visits to Taiwan: Opportunities for U.S.-Taiwan Relations?


The People's Republic of China (PRC) State Council Taiwan Affairs Office recently announced the visit of Fujian Governor Su Shulin [苏树林] to Taiwan the last week of March 2012.  Su is expected to lead a delegation to meet with local farmers, fishermen and young entrepreneurs in order to “build understanding between mainland and Taiwanese people and promote trade between Fujian and Taiwan.”    While unclear, Su may also promote a proposal for joint governance of Pingtan Island and the long standing concept of a Western Taiwan Strait Economic Zone (“Haixi” for short).

With at least 21 provincial leaders landing on Taiwan over the last three years, visits that were unthinkable only five years ago have become commonplace. However, Su’s visit may be unique.  Su Shulin will be the first potential member of China’s “Sixth Generation” leadership to travel to Taiwan.  Born in 1962, Su has spent most of his career in China’s oil business, and served as chairman of the China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec), ranked seventh on Fortune Global 500’s list of the world’s largest corporations in 2010.  Su Shulin assumed the Fujian governor position last year.


Chinese Influence Operations and the Double Edged Sword

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee has promoted increasingly frequent senior level visits to Taiwan as part of a broader strategy aimed at winning hearts and minds on the island. Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Jia Qinglin [贾庆林], appears to be managing China’s strategy toward Taiwan on behalf of Hu Jintao, or at least coordinating policy on Taiwan.  Jia Qinglin is a member of the CCP Small Leading Group on Taiwan Affairs.

The linkage between the high tempo of exchanges and recent elections on Taiwan is hard to miss.  Pledging economic benefits may be a more effective way of influencing elections than lobbing missiles off the coast.  These visits seek to win hearts and minds.  Committing to opening markets to Taiwanese enterprises and buying sprees, Beijing has targeted the central and southern areas of Taiwan, the traditional power bases of the sovereign-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

From another angle, Chinese provincial/municipal party and government leaders may hope to attract the kinds of investment that could ensure career advancement in the lead up to the 18th Party Congress later this year.  Delegations have generally met with Honorary KMT Chairmen Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung, Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, People First Party Chairman James Soong, and New Party Chairman Yu Mu-ming.

Taiwanese enterprises have at least U.S. $150 billion invested in China, and provincial/municipal leaders understand that a successful record in local economic development is the key to career advancement within the CCP. Senior CCP members need Taiwan for personal and professional advancement as much as, if not more than, Taiwan needs China.  The visits have been taking place within the context of a series of KMT-CCP cross-Strait economic, trade, and cultural forum meetings.  To date, forum meetings had been held in Beijing (April 2006); Hainan (October 2006) Beijing (April 2007); Shanghai (December 2008); Changsha (July 2009); Guangzhou (July 2010); and Chengdu (May 2011).  KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung and CPPCC Chairman Jia Qinglin have led each side's respective delegations.

Each provincial visit is a double edged sword.  Spending time on both sides of the Taiwan Strait is one the best ways to understand that Taiwan and China are as different as the United States is from the UK or Australia.  Taiwan, under its existing Republic of China (ROC) constitution, is an independent, sovereign state. Taiwanese hosts are gracious and accommodating to foreign guests, and Chinese visitors should be wined, dined, and granted diplomatic courtesies the same as Americans and other international representatives.

At the same time, the KMT and DPP understand the games authorities play in Beijing.  Based on policy prescriptions of the CCP Small Leading Group on Taiwan, the CCP Propaganda Department seeks to manipulate perceptions that Taiwan is equal to a province in stature, thus expanding the sovereignty gap in China’s favor.

Opportunities for Deepening and Broadening U.S.-Taiwan Relations

Increasingly sensitive to signs of abandonment or neglect, the Ma administration has been consistent in requesting interactions with the Obama administration that in effect seek balance in cross-Strait and U.S.-Taiwan relations.  Senior U.S. officials presumably see these visits as positive.  Expanding cross-Strait interactions offer U.S. policymakers with opportunities, should officials have the foresight to recognize them.  Visits create an environment conducive to relaxed restrictions on more senior U.S. visits to Taiwan.  It’s happening, although slow.  U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman visited Taiwan in December 2011, the most senior official to visit in over a decade.   United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah also visited Taipei in December. However, Congress should be nudging the Executive Branch to pay attention and do more.

The Ma Administration is investing hope in the Obama Administration’s willingness to help address the sovereignty gap.  US-Taiwan relations should maintain pace with growing cross-Strait ties, and six areas need further attention:

  • Further commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and further reaffirmation of the Six Assurances made to Taiwan in 1982; 
  • Regularized arms sales notifications to Congress, including those for direct commercial sales, under Sections 36(b) and 36(c) of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA);
  • Increase in frequency and level of senior U.S. Executive Branch visits to Taiwan.  
  • Reinvigorating the economic dialogue, including Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) negotiations that have been frozen since July 2007.
  • Further support for Taiwan's meaningful participation in international organizations, specifically UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

List of Chinese Provincial Level Visits to Taiwan, 2009-2012

For reference purposes, here’s a sampling of provincial-level leadership visits:

Leader
Dates
Comments
Li Chongxi
李崇禧
Sichuan Province
1-6 Nov 09
Li Chongxi, Sichuan’s Deputy Communist Party Chief, led a 250+ member delegation to Taiwan to discuss cooperation in trade and tourism.  The visit was in part intended to express appreciation for Taiwan’s assistance to earthquake relief in May 2008, and to reciprocate for several visits of Lien Chan, Wu Poh-hsiung and Chiang Pin-kung to Sichuan.
Liang Baohua
梁保
Jiangsu Province
9-15 Nov 09
At the invitation of the KMT Central Committee, Jiangsu Communist Party Chief Liang Baohua visited Taiwan for six days, the first provincial leader visit since 1949.  In its reporting, China’s Xinhua News Agency referred to Taiwan as a “province” in commemorating the opening of "Jiangsu-Taiwan Week." With the highest per capita GDP in China, Jiangsu is hosts more than 30% of Taiwan’s total investment in China, with half of this concentrated in Kunshan.  Liang Baohua is a member of the 17th Central Committee.
Xu Guangchun
徐光春
Henan Province
14-20 Dec 09
Henan Province Communist Party Chief Xu Guangchun committed to buying as much as US $500 million in goods.  He also pledged to produce over 100,000 tourists to Taiwan in 2010. He was formerly head of Xinhua’s Shanghai bureau, Minister of State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), and Deputy Director of the CCP Propaganda Department.
Han Zheng
Shanghai Municipality
4-9 Apr 10
Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng led a delegation of more than 200 representatives to Taiwan in the lead up to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.  Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin led a delegation to visit Shanghai in June 2008, and Han Zheng’s visit marked the first by a Shanghai mayor in history.  Civic organizations from Taipei and Shanghai had conducted annual exchanges each year since 2001.
Luo Qingquan
罗清
Hubei Province
19-25 Apr 10
Hubei Communist Party Chief Luo Qingquan visited Taiwan for a six day visit.  The group pledged purchases of Taiwanese products valued at U.S. $500 million.  Luo, a member of 17th Central Committee, also visited Chungtian TV facilities. 
Huang Xiaojing
黄小晶
Fujian Province
5-10 May 10
Fujian Governor Huang Xiaojing made a six-day visit to Taiwan at the invitation of the KMT’s National Policy Foundation.
Liu Qibao
刘奇葆
Sichuan Province
23-28 May 10
Sichuan Party Chief Liu Qibao visited Taiwan for exchanges in the areas of economy, finance, education and culture. 
Lu Zushan
吕祖
Zhejiang Province
10-18 Jun 10
Zhejiang Governor Lu Zushan made an eight-day visit to Taiwan to initiate cooperative programs in finance, agriculture, tourism, culture and education.
Guo Shengkun
郭声琨
Guangxi Autonomous Region
1-10 Jul 10
Guangxi Communist Party Chief Guo Shengkun led a large delegation to Taiwan in early July 2010 for purchasing of agricultural products machinery valued at U.S. $200 million and to attract Taiwanese investment.  The visit took place in the wake of the ECFA signing in Chongqing on 29 Jun 10.  ECFA was to be in force as of 1 January 2011.
Chen Weigen
陈伟根
Jilin Province
4-10 Jul 10
Jilin Vice Governor Chen Weigen led a buying delegation to Taiwan consisting of representatives from eight major enterprises. The delegation targeted agricultural products, food packaging equipments, auto parts, textile products, handcrafts, and furniture from Taiwan.  Born in 1955, Chen formerly served as Chairman, China National Machinery Import and Export Group.  
Mei Kebao
梅克保
Hunan Province
3-8 Aug 10
Hunan Communist Party Deputy Chief Mei Kebao led a delegation of over 100 representatives from Hunan for “Hunan-Taiwan week” and the 6th Hunan-Taiwan Exchange and Cooperation Forum on Economy and Trade at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Mei represented Hunan Party Chief Zhou Qiang, considered to a rising Sixth Generation leader within the CCP.  A Hunan website referred to Taiwan as a province. The visit was followed up by a group from Taiwan that visited Hunan for the 7th Hunan-Taiwan Financial Cooperation Forum, including New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming and Want Want Holdings CEO Cai Yanming.  The group met with Zhou Qiang, Governor Xu Shousheng, and Chen Yunlin.
Zhao Zhengyong
赵正
Shaanxi Province
13-19 Sep 10
Shaanxi Governor Zhao Zhengyong visited Taiwan for “Taiwan-Shaanxi Week.” Zhao ran Anhui Province’s Public Security Bureau from 1993 to 2001.  Zhao’s visit was the last before a two month freeze on visits in the lead up to the 27 November 2010 municipal elections on Taiwan.
Pre-Municipal Election Freeze
September 2010 – December 2010
Ji Lin
吉林
Beijing Municipality
13-17 Dec 10
After the municipal elections in Taiwan, Beijing Vice Mayor Ji Lin led a 200-member delegation to Taiwan for discussions with senior officials in Taipei and a cross-Strait forum on science and technology held at the Howard Plaza Hotel in Taichung on 15 December.
 
Before his arrival, Falungong practitioners in Taiwan filed a lawsuit against Ji Lin for abuses in Beijing. Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan adopted a resolution earlier in the month requiring Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and the National Immigration Agency (NIA) to deny entry for Chinese officials known to have been involved in human rights abuses.
Chen Zhenggao
陈政高
Liaoning Province
15-21 Feb 11
Liaoning Governor Chen Zhenggao led a delegation to Taiwan for a “Liaoning-Taiwan Economic &Trade Corporation Forum. “ The groundwork for Chen’s visit was established in August 2010, when Dalian Deputy Mayor Dai Yulin led a buying delegation, with meetings held at the Taipei International Convention Center.

Chen traveled to Hsinchu and Taichung where he allegedly placed large orders for agricultural products like tea, wine, honey and oranges.  The visit was hosted by the Taiwan Council for Industrial and Commercial Development (CICD). Taiwanese investment in Liaoning is growing, and the 10th annual Liaoning-Taiwan was held in Dandong in September 2011.

Chen Zhenggao’s visit was followed by Vice Minister Jiang Zengwei, who represented Beijing for the first Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Committee (ECC), held in Chungli (Taoyuan County) on 22 February 2011.
Wang Sanyun
王三运
Anhui Province
18-25 Apr 11
Governor Wang Sanyun led a 2000-member delegation from Anhui to visit Taipei, Hsinchu, Kaohisung, and other locations on Taiwan. 
Ma Biao
马飚
Guangxi Autonomous Region
23-30 Apr 11
Guangxi Communist Party Chief Ma Biao spent most of his time in Hualian, where buyers were focused on tea and clam products.

Closely following the visit was the seventh Cross-Strait Economic, Trade, and Culture Forum held in Chengdu on 6 May 2011.  Representing Taiwan was KMT Honorary Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung, who met with CCP Secretary General Hu Jintao in Beijing afterwards.  Jia Qinglin, CPPCC Chairman urged the people of Taiwan to "choose the right person" in two upcoming major elections on the island in order to maintain the stable development of the cross-strait relationship.
Jiang Jufeng
蒋巨峰
Sichuan Province
21-26 May 11
Sichuan Governor Jiang Jufeng visited Taiwan for “Taiwan and Sichuan Week.”  The first provincial-level leader to arrive Taiwan via Kaohsiung, Jiang spent most of his time in southern Taiwan and visited areas affected by Typhoon Morakot.  In Taipei, the visit was marked by a scuffle between security at the Grand Hotel and pro-Tibetan protestors. Jiang visited Sichuan pandas at the Taipei zoo.  Until his assignment to Sichuan, Jiang had spent most of his career in Zhejiang.
Zhao Hongzhu
赵洪
Zhejiang Province
26 May –
5 Jun 11
Zhejiang Party Secretary Zhao Hongzhu led a delegation of more than 660 people to Taiwan.
Jiang Daming
姜大明
Shandong Province
11-17 Jul 11
Governor Jiang Daming led a delegation from Shandong Province to Taiwan for an economic and trade forum at Taipei's World Trade Center.  Shandong rates fourth after Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Fujian, in level of Taiwanese investment.  Foxconn’s manufacturing plant in Yantai, which employs 80,ooo workers, is Taiwan’s largest single investment in Shandong.  This single factory is said to produce over 10% of Shandong’s exports.
Huang Huahua
华华
Guangdong Province
16-22 Aug 11
Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua supposedly pledged to buy more than U.S. $5 billion in agricultural and electronic products.  Huang resigned his position as governor in November 2011, and was replaced by Zhu Xiaodan [朱小丹].

Before his assignment as governor in 2003, Huang had served in senior party positions in Guangdong’s Shaoguan and Meizhou, cities that host PLA Second Artillery ballistic missile brigades oriented toward Taiwan.
Pre-National Election Freeze
September 2011 – February 2012
Guo Jinlong
郭金
Beijing Municipality
16-21 Feb 12
Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong led a delegation of more than 100 people and was the first mayor of Beijing to visit Taiwan.
Su Shulin
苏树
Fujian Province
upcoming
Governor of Fujian Province Su Shulin is scheduled to visit Taiwan the last week of March 2012.  


Other visits this Spring are said to include Jiangsu Communist Party Secretary Luo Zhijun [].  Luo was formerly in charge of the Communist Youth League-managed China Youth Daily and mayor of Nanjing.   Another group from Hubei Province is scheduled to visit Taiwan this Spring.  It had been delayed from last year due to severe flooding of the Yangzi River. 


END







Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jinan Military Region Leadership Visit to the United States

A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military delegation led by General FAN Changlong [长龙], commander of the Jinan Military Area Command, began an official visit to the United States this weekend. Born in 1947 in Donggang City (Liaoning Province), Gen FAN formerly served as 16th Group Army Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff of the Shenyang Military Region. He’s commanded the Jinan Military Region since 2004. 

Other senior members of the delegation include Rear Admiral DU Xiping [杜希平], Deputy Commander of the North China Sea Fleet; Major General (MGen) WU Huijian [辉建], Commander, Jinan Military Region Air Force; and MGen MA Yiming [马宜明], Commander, 26th Group Army.

The make up of the delegation indicates a training theme.  MGen Ma Yiming is dual hated as 26th Group Army Commander and Director of the Jinan Military Region’s Weifang Military Training Coordination Zone.  The PLA’s premier “Blue Force” joint training complex, Weifang sponsors the Lianhe series of joint training exercises, which includes naval, air, and amphibious landing training. [2]


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Obama’s Failing Taiwan Policy

Recent reports and editorials have highlighted challenges that the Obama administration faces in managing ties with Taiwan. Sensing a failing Taiwan policy. Members of Congress are ratcheting up the pressure. And rightly so. Plagued by an acute case of decidophobia, the Obama administration’s unwillingness to accept and act upon a legitimate request for a follow-on procurement of F-16 fighters symbolizes a broader problem. The problem is creeping abandonment of democratic Taiwan in favor of an increasingly assertive authoritarian People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Not since the Carter administration has an Executive Branch inched so close to casting aside Taiwan in order to placate China for ostensibly strategic reasons. This isn’t just a Republican-Democrat issue. Relatively speaking, the Clinton administration deserves high marks. And the current failings of the Obama administration can, at least in part, be a carry-over from the latter part of the Bush administration. While difficult to pinpoint, one could trace the problem to a select number of senior political appointees close to the President, weak leadership at the senior levels of the Pentagon, and an increasingly sophisticated and effective PRC influence operations campaign.

The Obama Team’s Line Up

One had high hopes for the Obama team as it entered office in January 2009. The administration’s Asia team members included seasoned, strategically-minded veterans, such as Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of Defense LTG (ret) Chip Gregson, and Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Mitchell. The latter two focused much of their time on Central Asia issues, despite having significant “boots on the ground” time in Taiwan. Chip Gregson has departed, and Derek Mitchell has been nominated to serve as Special Representative to Burma. Replacements have yet to be confirmed, including nomination of Mark Lippert as Chip Gregson’s replacement.

Sharp, seasoned Pentagon staffers with years of China/Taiwan policy experience within the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) include retired Navy Captain Joe Skinner and Principal Director Dave Helvey. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense with direct oversight of Taiwan policy is long time Dianne Feinstein staffer Mike Schiffer. Most likely focused on Korea, Japan, and China military-to-military issues, Schiffer has made few public statements indicating strong support for Taiwan’s position. His former boss, Senator Feinstein, has been a leading proponent of China and advocate of U.S.-China relations. At the same time, she has questioned U.S. security assistance to Taiwan (see below).

Highly sensitive to how Taiwan arms sales could affect the U.S.-China military relationship, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Under Secretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy have been less vocal than their predecessors on Taiwan issues. In fact, Secretary Gates was quite sensitive to Chinese concerns regarding arms sales, without much apparent concern for Taiwan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn, who served as a senior Raytheon executive for seven years, appears to have recused himself on Taiwan issues. Lynn has announced his departure later this summer or Fall, and a replacement has yet to be named.

Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Mike Mullen has endorsed Track 2 dialogues between ostensibly retired senior PLA officers and retired Navy Admiral Bill Owens, Joe Prueher, and others who have advocated abandonment of Taiwan. “Abandonment” of Taiwan presumably means amending or revoking the Taiwan Relations Act. Unlike their authoritarian cousins to the west who meet with the Secretary and Under Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon and in Beijing on a regular basis, Taiwan’s access to senior Pentagon officials remains severely limited. Newly appointed Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, may be more sympathetic to Taiwan, and Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) ADM Robert Willard has been a solid advocate of Taiwan’s defense.

The remainder of the bureaucracy is relatively consistent with the past. Senior representatives of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), such as Bill Stanton, Ray Burghart, Barbara Schrage, and Greg Man offer solid policy advice. Very capable China hands originally included Jeff Bader, President Obama’s senior director for East Asian affairs.  Jeff has returned to Brookings, and been replaced by a Korea specialist, Danny Russel.  Former RAND analyst Evan Medeiros manages the China/Taiwan portfolio on the National Security Staff. As the sole remaining China hand in the Old Executive Office Building, Evan has demonstrated sympathy to Taiwan in the past, despite reports to the contrary.

This has been a solid line up, and people who should have been able develop creative solutions to balance interests in good China relations while not sacrificing Taiwan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presumably under advisement from Kurt Campbell, deserves high marks, as demonstrated by her tough rebukes against Chinese activities in the South China Sea. The remainder of the State Department bureaucracy serves as the bedrock of a principled status quo. These days, principled status quo is good. One should never forget the State Department resisted DoD efforts to re-establish military-to-military relations with China in the wake of the PLA’s bloody crackdown on protestors in June 1989.

Weaknesses

So where is Obama team failing? Even the perception of drift toward abandoning a democracy in favor of an authoritarian Chinese government that relies on implied threats of force to resolve political differences. After all, the objective reality is that the Republic of China (ROC) exists as nation-state, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations.In addition to weak support at senior levels within the Pentagon, problems may start with the Deputies Committee (DC). First, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is said to have been personally invested in the notion of “strategic reassurance” with China, which presumably means accommodation of China (e.g., appeasement). The new buzzword is “strategic mutual trust.” Until his recent departure, Steinberg likely dominated DC meetings that addressed China issues, or Taiwan if ever raised to that level in the past couple of years. Tom Donilon served as Deputy National Security Advisor until last year, when he was appointed as Obama’s National Security Advisor. Donilon’s replacement, Denis McDonough, has no apparent record on Taiwan issues.

Theoretically, DC meetings tee up issues for consideration by the Principals. Secretary of Defense Bill Gates has been weak, and Donilon has no record on Taiwan to speak of. In short, adding to the weakness is a relatively passive Department of Defense, the traditional bedrock of support for Taiwan. Perhaps supporting a policy of strategic reassurance, senior uniformed military officers, such as CJCS Mullen, appear personally invested in a politically-tinged military relationship with counterparts within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Influencing Taiwan Policy from the Outside

Another factor contributing toward the drift in U.S. Taiwan policy may be the role of informal opinion leaders or groups. Beijing understands where to focus its influence – retired senior U.S. military officers with residual connections in the Pentagon, the financial establishment, and other communities of influence. Beijing has actively sought out U.S. friends willing to call for a halt to arms sales, amendment of the Taiwan Relations Act, or abandonment of Taiwan. China and its representatives also has been targeting traditionally conservative groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

One forum in particular – the Sanya Initiative - has involved retired four star generals and admirals. Sponsors have included the China Association for International Friendly Contact, C.H Tung’s Hong Kong-based China-US Exchange Foundation, and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The PLA's Foreign Affairs Office supposedly provided translation support.

In the lead up to the initial meetings in 2008, CJCS Mike Mullen signed a letter to the organizers saying “I specifically endorse the meeting of four U.S. four star officers with their counterparts” in China. Then-PACOM Commander, ADM Tim Keating, also endorsed the dialogue. During the first round from February 19-22, 2008, former Nanjing Military Region Commander, General Zhu Wenquan, requested U.S. participants advocate in favor of a cessation of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, reduction in other forms of military cooperation, and a “review of the Taiwan Relations Act.”

As outlined in the meeting report, U.S. participants assured Chinese counterparts that the PLA's case - presumably including selling out a de facto democratic nation-state - would be made in Washington DC. In March 2008, one U.S. Sanya delegation representative -- a member of the U.S. Defense Policy Board – briefed the board on a proposal for the U.S.-China military relationship to be based on the “Sanya model,” and presented a plan to then-Secretary of Defense Bill Gates to change U.S. China policy. Another U.S. representative, a retired U.S. Marine general, advocated adjustments to DoD senior service school curriculum. Another offered to use channels to lobby the White House.

By September 2009, the organizer, former VCJCS, ADM (ret) Bill Owens, published an op-ed in the Financial Times. He advocated a halt to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and revisions to the Taiwan Relations Act, charging that the legislation is outdated and “not in our best interests.” Among other business pursuits, ADM (ret) Owens is a senior executive with AEA Investors, a major financial firm with close connections with former SecState Henry Kissinger and former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg. The latter has been cited as a source of funding for the Sanya Initiative.

The second round of meetings took place in Hawaii from October 16-24, 2009. Participants met with CJCS Mullen (see photo of CJCS with Owens, Xiong Guangkai, and rest of Sanya group above) and PACOM Commander Tim Keating. In recounting the meeting, one of the key Chinese sponsors asserted that “the joint statement issued after the talks said that the (retired) American military leaders unanimously felt that the Taiwan Relations Act needs to be reviewed.” After the Hawaii meetings, the Chinese side proceeded on to Washington, where they met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn, VCJCS General James Cartwright, and members of Congress. U.S. participants included former PACOM Commander, U.S. Ambassador to China, and Vice Chairman of the National Committee on U.S.- China Relations -- ADM (ret) Joe Prueher. The third round of the Sanya dialogue took place in Hangzhou on October 28-29. 2010, and included a new member to the U.S. group -- former PACOM Commander Tim Keating. The meetings also included U.S. Embassy participation.

Perhaps informed by the series of senior retired officer exchanges, the "abandon Taiwan" theme, ostensibly due to overriding strategic interests in China, appears to have expanded. In February 2010, Owens' replacement as VCJCS -- USAF Gen (ret) Joe Ralston -- published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal citing the freeze of US-China military relations as a result of the January 2010 Congressional notifications on Taiwan arms sales. He then proceeds to outline the overriding national security interests in the US-China military-to-military relationship, and establishing personal counterpart relations (e.g., assuming that PLA counterparts would actually answer a phone during a crisis). The editorial implied that Taiwan arms sales are an obstacle to the US-China military relationship. General (ret) Ralston is Vice Chairman of the Cohen Group, an enterprise with expanding business interests in China.

In June 2010, a senior U.S. senator (Diane Feinstein) stated that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were hurting closer ties with China, and asked Defense Secretary Gates what Beijing would have to do for the Pentagon to reconsider the transfers. By March 2011, retired U.S. Pacific Command commanders Joe Prueher and Tim Keating, both with affiliations with the Sanya initiative, succeeded in getting more than a half dozen signatures on a report published by the University of Virginia Miller Center calling for a review of the Taiwan Relations Act and end to the “vicious circle” caused by U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. In September 2010, another senator, Arlen Specter, argued on the floor that revisions to US arms sales could be warranted In Spring 2011, international relations theorist Charles Glaser joined the growing chorus calling for the abandonment of Taiwan. In May 2011, at the invitation of the Naval War College’s Maritime Studies Institute, one former senior U.S. official advocated U.S. support for Taiwan’s unification with China.

In late May 2011, visiting PLA Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde continued the campaign on Taiwan. During a joint press conference with ADM Mullen, Chen said "since I've arrived in the United States, I've had the opportunity to talk to some members of Congress and some of them told me that they also think that it is time for the United States to review this legislation.” Mullen responded by pointing the audience in the right direction: U.S. Congress should be the ones to initiate abandonment of Taiwan.

Arms Sales Freeze

China’s influence operations campaign appears to be working, at least with the Executive Branch. The F-16 issue, or rather the Obama administration’s refusal to accept and act upon a legitimate request to replace Taiwan’s remaining 60 F-5s, best symbolizes the Obama administration’s policy drift on Taiwan. Before 2001, representatives from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense submitted a list of requests to senior U.S. policy officials in annual face to face meetings, thus ensuring stated requirements were understood and addressed. At the time, Bush administration officials assured counterparts from Taipei that written responses to requests would be provided within a reasonable timeframe (e.g., standard of 60 days).

What makes the F-16 issue so egregious is the refusal to accept formal letters of request (LOR) for price and availability (P&A) data since 2006.In July, the Obama administration is said to have committed to resolve the fighter issue by October 1, 2011. ADM Mullen reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to make a decision by October 1, 2011. However, observers have noted that the most likely course of action is to retrofit a portion of Taiwan’s existing F-16 fighter fleet with new radar systems and possibly engines. In effect, upgrades would be roughly on a par with F-16 Block 50/52. It remains unclear what configuration would be involved. Based on Defense News reporting from 2009, options likely include replacing APG-66(V)3 radar systems on current airframes with the APG-68(V)9 or perhaps an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Also included could be upgrades to the mission computer, new color multifunction displays and helmet mounted cueing, air-to-air and maritime interdiction munitions, as well as electronic countermeasure systems. Although likely to send the retrofit price tag through the roof, engine candidates include the General Electric F110-GE-129 and the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229, with the latter as a preferable option.

If reporting is correct, release of additional F-16s – the priority – could continue to be held in abeyance. Release of F-16 Block 50/52 capabilities, yet withholding new airframes to replace aging F-5s, appears to be ill-advised. A minimalist decision is likely to draw Beijing’s ire, offer Taiwan’s political and military leadership with little choice but to proceed with the retrofit, force a deferral on replacement fighters for the F-5s, and undercut Taiwan’s leverage in cross-Strait relations. Congress is likely see a minimalist solution as insufficient. Click here for more.

Beyond F-16s

However, the problem goes beyond F-16s. The Executive Branch has in effect had a freeze on new arms sales since 2007. The notifications sent to Congress in October 2008 and January 2010 constituted one of the final administrative steps following policy-level approvals for PATRIOT PAC-3 ground systems and missiles (policy approval in 2001); AH-64D APACHE attack helicopters (policy approval in 2002); and UH-60 BLACKHAWK utility helicopters (policy approval in 2007). The BLACKHAWKs were the last major arms sales to be approved.Perhaps most egregious is a reversal of U.S. policy commitments made in April 2011 to assist Taiwan in its acquisition of diesel electric submarines. In 2007, Taiwan's legislature authorized funding of the first of a two phased program through FMS channels. Unconfirmed rumors exist that senior members of the White House staff recommended to senior counterparts in Taiwan to abandon the program, initially in June 2008.

Since then, the Obama administration has frozen the Congressional notification of Phase I, estimated at U.S. $360 million.The Obama administration also has deferred resumption of trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) talks. Taiwan’s restrictions on market access for U.S. beef have been cited as one rationale for freezing TIFA talks for the past four years. Unlike Taiwan, the U.S. Trade Representative has included the beef issue in trade negotiations with South Korean counterparts. Other Taiwan-related negotiations, including visa waiver and extradition initiatives, appear stalled. In the meantime, the director of China's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Wang Yi visited Washington in late July 2011 to lobby senior US officials against arms sales.

The Return of Congress

Since 1979, Congress has played a traditional role in offsetting natural bureaucratic tendencies of the Executive Branch to write Taiwan off. Almost half the Senate signed off on a letter sent to President Obama on 26 May that advocated approval of F-16s. On August 1, 2011, more than 180 members of Congress signed another letter to the President arguing in favor of additional F-16s for Taiwan.

Other actions have been taken. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), presumably support by fellow members, held up the nomination of Bill Burns for Deputy Secretary of State. Nominations for Mark Lippert as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Wendy Sherman, as undersecretary of state for political affairs, could run into difficulties.

These have been initial shots across the bow. Much more may need needed to get U.S. Asia policy back on track. By enacting a de facto freeze on new major arms sales, deferring renewal of TIFA talks, and unwillingness to actively support Taiwan in its efforts gaining entry into international organizations, such as the ICAO, one could swear that the Obama administration is actively trying to resolve the “Taiwan problem” once and for all, and in a manner amenable to Chinese interests. This probably isn’t intentional. But the effects are the same.

On the low end of the political intensity spectrum, Senate and House staffers could consider introduction of language into FY12 legislation akin to the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act of 1999. Congress also could move to freeze military to military exchanges, using Representative Frank Wolf’s ban on NASA exchanges with Chinese counterparts as a model. An insightful and well-crafted op-ed published last month by a former Pentagon and State Department official highlighted some of the shortcomings of the current military relationship. The op-ed coincided with a vastly different perspective published by CJCS Mullen the same day in the New York Times. ADM Mullen had argued that military relations with China were "vital" to U.S. interests. Fact is, defense policy exchanges with PLA counterparts can be helpful. But not at the cost of fundamental interests in Taiwan. Allies and friends should take priority, given limited theater engagement funding.

At the extreme end, maybe Congress could go beyond a simple review of the Taiwan Relations Act, as friends of the Obama administration have advocated (e.g., Bill Owens, Joe Prueher, etc). Perhaps a review could consider aligning U.S. foreign policy with an objective reality: the existence of Taiwan, under its existing Republic of China (ROC) constitutional framework, as equally deserving of diplomatic status as the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Along these lines, Brookings Institute's Richard Bush offers some very thoughtful insights.

Taipei needs a regular, strong, visible signs of US support. Insecurity created by even the perception of waning U.S. support has historically resulted in radical policies on Taiwan, including development of weapons of mass destruction and means of delivery in the wake of the US-China 1972 and 1979 Communiques. Continuation of the on-going de facto freeze on new major arms sales, including deferral of Taiwan’s request for additional F-16s, arguably undermines new cross-Strait initiatives. The connection between past arms sales and subsequent breakthroughs in cross-Strait relations is amorphous, but not insignificant. And the Obama administration’s inaction sends the wrong signal by legitimizing military coercion as a means to resolve territorial and sovereignty disputes around the PRC periphery. It’s also very unfortunate that retired U.S. officials forget basic principles upon which the U.S. was founded, including support for fellow democracies. Fortunately, U.S. Congress has resumed its traditional role in offsetting natural Executive Branch tendencies to write Taiwan off.

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