- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

When President Bush came to power in 2001, his administration had an announced policy to improve the defensive posture of Taiwan. However, recent statements from the administration have made it clear that the president has suspended or is “freezing” arms sales to Taiwan for an undetermined period. While administration officials deny such a “freeze” exists, other reports have suggested the freeze may become permanent.

Such a policy choice would be a tragedy not just for the people of Taiwan, but for our U.S. military forces who may have to defend Taiwan from a Communist China that shows no inclination to consider a future for Taiwan other than from its own dictat. In view of the rapidly expanding Chinese military modernization program, the current freeze makes no sense.

Taiwan, along with our friends and allies, could not be faulted for viewing the freeze as a first step in abandoning democracy for Taiwan and adding a significant degree of uncertainty to our Asian security policy. This is not a legacy President Bush should want to leave for his successor.

As Adm. Timothy Keating, current USCINCPAC (United States Pacific Command) commander, recently pointed out in an address at the Heritage Foundation, Taiwan’s military equipment is getting older, leading to an expanding imbalance as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) accelerates the modernization of its military forces, which include a force projection capability. There are reports that China is planning to construct an amphibious force consisting of 6 new Type O81 helicopter assault ships and 3 Type O71 landing dock assault ships. These forces are clearly not for defensive purposes.

Since his election in March, President Ma Ying-jeou and the new Kuomintang (KMT) government have moved quickly to reduce tension with mainland China. The Bush administration has worked hard to show its preference for many of the moves the KMT government is now trying to do. However, for the people of Taiwan and for the United States, the preservation of democracy on Taiwan remains paramount.

Chinese military writings over the last decade have made it patently clear that Taiwan’s value to China is as a new military base. They look at Taiwan as an unsinkable aircraft carrier; controlling Taiwan will allow Chinese military forces to break out of what has been called the “First Island Chain” and to then dominate East Asia. Even with President Ma’s conciliatory moves to reduce tension with mainland China, there has been no reciprocity by the PRC. Since the Taiwan election in March, China has shown no inclination to reduce its order of battle facing Taiwan, or even to slow the rate of growth in these forces. The Chinese air force flies up to five sorties a day up to the “midline” of the Taiwan Strait, creating a strain on Taiwan’s air defense posture, made more burdensome by the increasing number of nearly-impossible-to-evade, long-range Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.

Since 2001, the number of Chinese ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan has increased from about 400 to over 1,250, and include 250 new land attack cruise missiles. The number of modern, fourth-generation fighters facing Taiwan has grown from about 150 to about 500. The number of modern submarines has grown from about eight to about 30. This does not include the new underground submarine pens on Hainan Island, which provide a base to interdict the critical sea lines of communication coming from the Straits of Malacca to Taiwan and our allies Japan and South Korea.

Had the Bush administration’s original 2001 arms sales package to Taiwan of new destroyers, new Patriot anti-ballistic missile interceptors, P-3 anti-submarine aircraft and eight new, conventional submarines been transferred immediately, Taiwan might have been able to sustain a margin of technical superiority and deterrent capability. Further, as many as 66 new F-16 fighters that Taiwan has requested in the last two years would also have to be added to the equation.

There can be no errors in preserving the military balance in the Taiwan Strait. We either have a sincere interest in Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, as stated in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, or we do not. I suggest that America continues to have vital interest in sustaining Taiwan’s survival as a democracy, plus a vested interest in helping the Taiwanese to defend themselves. Failing in our responsibility to provide the necessary defensive arms to Taiwan could force Taiwan to renew a latent nuclear weapons program to maintain some semblance of deterrence in the Straits.

Until mainland China changes its totalitarian regime and can accept Taiwan on its own terms, the creditability of American leadership demands that we do what’s necessary to defend freedom on Taiwan. This should be the legacy that the Bush administration leaves for its successor.

James A. Lyons Jr., a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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