Exclusive: U.S. House Recommits to Taiwan’s Security and Self-Rule

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS March 27, 2009
On March 24th, the U.S. House of Representatives reaffirmed its commitment to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) in a resolution (H.Res. 55) adopted by unanimous consent. The occasion was the 30th anniversary of the law's enactment. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) with 124 co-sponsors. The resolution hailed the TRA as having “been instrumental in maintaining peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait since its enactment in 1979.” It then confirmed the two most important parts of the TRA:
 
Whereas the Taiwan Relations Act states that it is the policy of the United States to provide defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability;
Whereas the Taiwan Relations Act also states that it is the policy of the United States to maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan;
The Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) strongly protests any sale of arms to the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, and recently held up the resumption of U.S.-PRC military-to-military talks over this issue. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a “rogue province” that must be brought under the control of the mainland. The PRC’s 2005 Anti-Secession Law states that Beijing would resort to “non-peaceful means” against Taiwan if “possibilities for peaceful reunification” are exhausted.
 
The press release from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington (the ROC’s unofficial U.S. embassy) also stressed the resolution’s support for arms sales to the island democracy so it could resist Chinese military coercion.
 
The House resolution proclaimed that U.S.-Taiwan relations have been strengthened since 1979 by “Taiwan's evolution into a free society and a full-fledged, multi-party democracy;” and “the development of Taiwan's robust free-market economy.” It also hailed Taiwan’s cooperation in the war on terrorism.
 
It is clear that American aid will be necessary for Taiwan to maintain its de facto independence and close alignment with the United States in world affairs. Taiwan released its first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) March 16 setting out its military posture and what it will require to fulfill its duty to defend the island.
 
In a March 17th press conference, Lt. Gen. Wu Chien-hsing, ROC Air Force chief of staff, said Taiwan wants 66 F-16C/D fighters whose purchase from the U.S. has been on hold since 2007. He also said that the ministry is looking for its next generation of fighter aircraft. The leading contender would be the U.S. F-35 Lightning II given that Wu said the preferred features of the new aircraft would include stealth and short field takeoff and landing capability.
The Taiwanese navy wants submarines, large and medium-size warships, missile patrol boats, surface and helicopter minesweepers, and .air-launched anti-ship missiles.
 
President George W. Bush offered Taiwan eight submarines in 2001, but the sale is in limbo. U.S. officials have been rebuffing Taipei's requests for modern Aegis-equipped destroyers for more than a decade. The U.S. did recently provide four very old air defense destroyers (originally built for the Shah of Iran), 12 P-3 antisubmarine aircraft, upgrades for Patriot air defense missiles and new AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. The Bush administration reportedly tried to undermine, however, Taiwan's fielding of a small force of indigenously developed land attack cruise missiles. Taipei needs some offensive punch to deter a Chinese attack or to strike mainland staging areas being used by invasion forces if deterrence failed.
 
Despite efforts by President Ma Ying-jeou to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait by expanding commercial ties and opening direct air service with the mainland, Beijing has not lessened its military threats against Taipei. Beijing continues to increase and improve the weapons it has deployed along the coast. Since 2007, the number of ballistic and cruise missiles has grown from about 1,000 to about 1,500 today. 
 
President Ma came into office last May hoping to negotiate “a cross-Strait Peace Agreement, to turn the Taiwan Strait into a prosperous and peaceful non-military zone,” But he stipulated that this ideal could only become reality if Beijing agreed to his “demand that the Mainland dismantle missiles aimed at Taiwan.” There is no sign that the Communists intend to reduce military tensions. Indeed, Beijing is increasing its buildup of airborne and amphibious forces that would spearhead an invasion. And it is basing more combat aircraft within striking range of the island.
 
President Ma as a candidate had proposed a more defensive military posture in hopes of defusing tensions. His “hard ROC” strategy was meant to make the island too difficult for China to swallow by expanding the army’s ability to “defend our island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills” to borrow the words of Winston Churchill in 1940 when England was facing the prospect of an invasion by Nazi Germany.
 
But England was not devastated by an invasion. The Royal Air Force defeated the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, and the Royal Navy held command of the sea. Hitler could not cross the English Channel. The Taiwan Strait is four times the width of the English Channel. Beijing can bombard Taiwan with missiles, but it cannot take control of the island and subjugate its people without putting “boots on the ground.” Providing the ROC with the aircraft, missiles, and naval forces needed to prevent the PRC from crossing 100 miles of open water is the best way to deter war and keep the peace.
 
In the ROC QDR, "You don't see reductions or downgrading of our air superiority or sea control capability. You don't see a reduction in arms deals or acquisition from the U.S.,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. This means that President Ma is not now going to depend solely on a last ditch island defense. A unilateral Taiwanese effort to renounce offensive capabilities would only encourage Beijing to take risks that could lead to a confrontation.
 
Neither the United States nor Taiwan wants war with China. The status quo of a de facto independent, democratic ROC aligned with America is in the best interest of both Taipei and Washington. Only Beijing has threatened violence to change the situation across the strait and snuff out a proud, prosperous and successful democracy. For the U.S. House to pass, on a bipartisan basis and without objection, a renewed endorsement of the Taiwan Relations Act should send a strong message to Beijing not to contemplate breaking the peace in Asia.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org William Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues.

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