Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s policy of extending an olive branch to China rightly comes with a vigilant eye on China’s expansionist ambitions. On Friday, the Pentagon posted notification of the American sale of $6.43 billion in arms to Taiwan. This prompted Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei to protest the transaction. Yet, the Chinese government should not be surprised that Taiwan is bolstering its defenses - especially in the wake of more information regarding the massive arsenal that China is amassing.

As Bill Gertz reported in an Oct. 1 exclusive in The Washington Times, a draft internal report by a State Department advisory board details China’s steady acquisition of nuclear and conventional weapons. The Secretary of States’s International Advisory Board (ISAB) will soon complete its report, which provides a stark assessment of China’s capability and wide-ranging intentions. The report says China regards taking over Taiwan as the first step in a “break out” policy: The Chinese wish to establish “the legitimacy” of their regime by subjugating Taiwan. China could then dominate the seas near its coasts and project power eastward by ultimately “breaking out” of the region. Seizing Taiwan would deprive the United States of a key ally in “a highly strategic location” of the Western Pacific, the report says. Also, China now has 20 missiles capable of reaching the United States, but by 2015, it may have more than 100 nuclear missiles. The ISAB report encourages the United States to update its weapons program in order to counterweight Chinese ambitions. The ISAB report provides a blueprint for ensuring that America meets the challenges presented by China.

Washington has looked favorably upon the new course established by Mr. Ma, leader of Taiwan’s Nationalist (KMT) party, since he assumed office in May. Contrary to his predecessor, Mr. Ma no longer takes a confrontational tone; cross- strait relations have improved as is evident in the recent opening of Taiwan-China charter flights and the easing of investment restrictions. Taiwan has been defacto independent since 1949 and is recognized by 23 governments. In an ambiguous consensus reached in 1992, both Taiwan and China recognize “one China,” but define it differently. Despite the military buildup, the Chinese government insists that it seeks peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

The United States nonetheless must be proactive in ensuring that Taiwan, America’s 10th-largest trading partner and a model democracy in the area, is bolstered. Taiwan must proceed, in the words of Jason Yuan, head of Taiwan’s Economic and Cultural Representative Office, as a “peacemaker not a troublemaker”- but from a position of strength. The arms deal sends the right signal: Washington welcomes the recent rapprochement between Taiwan and China but is not blind to contrary evidence.

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