The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) recently over the strong objections of the Clinton administration. This controversial bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The act would authorize the sale to Taiwan of a broad array of defense items to cope with China’s deployment of missiles against Taiwan, and to neutralize the threat of China’s Russian-made kilo-class submarines and its own advanced subs.
Another goal of the bill is to establish a security and military relationship between the United States and Taiwan. There have been no joint military exercises between the United States and Taiwan since the United States severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979. There are no direct communication links between the military commands of the two countries. This situation would not be beneficial to military cooperation if China attacked Taiwan.
The TSEA therefore requires the secretary of defense to establish direct communications between the United States Pacific military command and the Taiwanese military command, and to strengthen U.S.-Taiwan military personnel exchanges. If the bill is passed, U.S. generals and flag officers will be able to visit Taiwan, and officers from Taiwan will be allowed to attend U.S. National Defense University, war colleges, command and staff colleges and military academies, and the number of military personnel stationed at the American Institute in Taiwan would be increased.
For four reasons, the Clinton administration has objected to the TSEA. (1) The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) has taken good care of Taiwan’s security and defense needs, hence there is no need for a new law. (2) TSEA is not consistent with a U.S. pledge in 1978 not to provide offensive weapons to Taiwan. (3) TSEA is not consistent with another U.S. pledge not to maintain official relations with Taiwan. (4) TSEA would not strengthen, but would instead harm Taiwan’s security as it will increase tensions between the U.S. and China, and between Taiwan and China. President Clinton has threatened to veto TSEA if Congress approves the bill.
These arguments are not persuasive at all. TSEA is needed, precisely because provisions of the TRA have not been fully and faithfully implemented, and because the U.S. government has from time to time violated outright the spirit and letter of the TRA. The U.S. government, afraid of offending Beijing, has delayed and denied numerous weapons procurement requests from Taiwan, saying that Taiwan does not need the weapons. For example, in 1992 the United States finally agreed to sell F-16s to Taiwan after procrastinating for 15 years, but these planes were not equipped with laser targeting pods, medium-range air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground missiles, Maverick G. missiles, or other state-of-the-art equipment. The United States has also refused to supply Taiwan with submarines, despite 20 years of persistent requests from Taiwan. Would the addition of a few submarines to Taiwan’s navy enable Taiwan to block China’s ports?
The Pentagon’s report, “The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait,” submitted to Congress last February, shows that the military balance between China and Taiwan tips in China’s favor. China has spent an enormous amount of resources modernizing its armed forces over the past decade, and has deployed M-class missiles targeted at Taiwan constituting a clear and immediate threat. Beijing has adopted a quick-strike strategy, featuring ballistic and cruise missiles as potent weapons to influence Taiwan’s populace and its leaders, and to gain superiority over Taiwan. Such a strategy is designed to achieve China’s control over Taiwan before the United States could effectively intervene. The United States must take this into account, which means that Taiwan will need more and better defensive weapons, including the Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system.
The United States must also review its own capabilities in the region, and the speed with which its forces are able to respond to any future PRC provocations. This is because China’s deployment of new missiles is not merely aimed at Taiwan, but is also directed at American forces in Japan and at U.S. warships in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States needs to take into account China’s grave strategic challenge. China’s new ICBMs, equipped with new small and multiple nuclear warheads developed with stolen U.S. technology can reach most places in the United States. Such a weapon system is intended to deter U.S. support for Taiwan and project PRC power in Asia.
Meanwhile, China is conducting a vigorous campaign to block U.S.-Japan cooperation on the TMD and U.S. sales of missile defense system to Taiwan. It is imperative that Washington clearly distinguish between friends and enemies. Taiwan is a democratic state its people and leaders share American values of democracy, freedom and human rights, and are both willing and able to contribute to the expansion and consolidation of a growing community of democracies anchoring international peace, stability, and prosperity.
In short, Taiwan is a valuable and constructive member of the international community worthy of American support. As a real friend, Taiwan can be a significant strategic asset to the United States, as both have vital common strategic interests in East Asia. If the United States helps Taiwan strengthen its defense capabilities, Taiwan will be able to support U.S. strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region.
Parris H. Chang is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Taiwan’s legislative Yuan (parliament).