- The Washington Times - Friday, April 4, 2008


With the convincing victory of Taiwan President-elect Ma Ying-Jeou and his publicly announced intention to put aside one of the most contentious issues with mainland China — Taiwan independence — one would think, tensions will now ease in the Taiwan Straits. This remains an open question.

Taiwan has never posed a military threat to mainland China. Further, many Taiwanese are ready for an expanded economic relationship with the mainland. Mr. Ma is confident he can reach agreement with China on a number of delicate issues including direct commercial airline flights, increased tourism and confidence-building measures involving transparency.

For Mr. Ma to have a constructive relationship, mainland China’s Communist Party must be willing to cooperate. Based on Beijing’s recent heavy-handed Cold War reaction to demonstrations in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, a heavy price most likely will be extracted from Taiwan on expanding relations with the mainland. The only threat Taiwan poses to China is its electric multiparty democracy, which most threatens the dictatorship of the Communist Party.

For the last two decades, China’s Communist Party leadership has concluded it must have sovereign control of Taiwan for both strategic and ideological reasons. China views such control as essential to break out of the “First Island Chain” and effect greater control over the Western Pacific and the South China Sea. Such control would be a stepping-stone toward greater strategic objectives that could range from the Straits of Hormuz to the Pacific’s “Second Island Chain,” including Guam.

When the United States terminated its base arrangement with the Philippines in 1991, one of the first things China did in 1992 was to have its National People’s Congress pass a law unilaterally declaring sovereignty over various disputed islands in the South China Sea including the Paracels, Spratleys, Taiwan and Senkaku areas.

They built a facility on the Philippine’s Mischief Reef. This law further asserted the right of the People’s Liberation Army to safeguard China’s territorial waters, including the areas around these disputed islands. China made unsubstantiated maritime claims citing “historic waters” and tried to restrict the right of foreign warships to innocent passage. It claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles from the shores of the islands. Incredible!

Obviously the United States and other countries objected. For the record, no less than six sovereign states lay claim to these islands. In 1996, China illegally laid claim to the entire South China Sea.

These illegal strategic moves by China, when coupled with its rapid strategic and conventional, including amphibious, force modernization plans are cause for concern. The expanded modernization of China’s armed forces under the guise it is for defensive purposes is not credible. The more than 1,200 ballistic and land attack cruise missiles positioned opposite Taiwan clearly are for offensive purposes and to deter the United States from coming to the aid of Taiwan if Taiwan is threatened. Inconsistent Chinese statements raise doubts whether their “no first use of nuclear weapons” policy applies to Taiwan.

Further, China’s underground submarine pens built on Hainan Island can accommodate both conventional and strategic nuclear ballistic missile submarines. This force in the future clearly will have the capability to interdict the critical sea lines of communication from the Straits of Malacca to our key allies in the region including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Their goal is clear — to become the dominant player in the Western Pacific and force our allies to sever their relationship with the U.S. and seek accommodation/subjugation to the People’s Republic of China.

Fortunately, we are not without options. We still have the predominant military capability in the region and, when combined with the forces of our allies, we represent a very credible threat to China’s strategic objectives. While we must continue to maintain a very credible military force in the Western Pacific, there are additional options we should pursue. These include:

c Improving the defensive posture of Taiwan to include approving their request for upgraded F-16s block 50 aircraft. We should also move ahead with the plan to provide Taiwan with 8 modern conventional submarines.

c With regard to the Philippines we should build on the Mutual Defense Treaty that exists. We are providing advisers and training to assist the Philippine armed forces to counter their insurgency and the war on terror.

c FedEx is moving its main terminal at Cubi Point at Subic to mainland China (Guangzhou). Two years remain on the FedEx Cubic Point lease which we should negotiate to acquire, keeping the current Philippine ground crew employed.

We can expect the Philippine government will come under strong pressure from the Chinese to prevent any expansion of our activities. The Chinese have poured billions of dollars into the Philippines and have signed 65 bilateral agreements with the Arroyo government in the last seven years. By comparison, the previous Aquino and Ramos administrations combined signed a total of six in 12 years. The Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) signed with China in 2004 for oil exploration in the South China Sea is shrouded in controversy and may have even conceded territorial waters. The PRC game plan is not too hard to figure out.

So that the Philippines can exercise control over their sovereignty, including the EEZ in the South China Sea, we should consider leasing a squadron of F-16 aircraft with maintenance personnel and seconded Air Force personnel to assist in keeping the squadron operational. These aircraft could operate out of Cubi Point. We should also consider leasing 1 to 2 FFG-7 naval frigates to provide a recognized capability to enforce their territorial rights. China has already offered to provide helicopters and other military equipment to the Philippines armed forces.

As part of our longstanding ties to the Philippines, we should recognize the remaining 18,000-plus Philippine veterans from World War II who fought on the side of the United States. We should provide retirement funds for these veterans who are now all in their 80s and 90s. The amount is relatively small, about $200 million We should also consider recognizing their contributions by presenting them with a medal for their most valuable and loyal service.

James Lyons, U.S. Navy retired 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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