Double Down on Taiwan

April 1, 2014 Topic: Security Region: ChinaTaiwan

Double Down on Taiwan

A stronger role for Taiwan in Asia will be a force for stability; it's in America's interests to promote that.


This April marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act. In a resolution affirming the critical importance of the Act, members of Congress note its “instrumental [role] in maintaining peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait since its enactment in 1979” and maintain that continued support for Taiwan “is in the political, international and economic interests of the United States.” Yet, in reality our relationship with Taiwan has suffered from benign neglect for far too long. During a March 14 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) questioned whether “the Administration is doing enough to fulfill the larger promise of the Taiwan Relations Act. America’s support for Taiwan is now more important than ever, and it is vital that we speak with one voice when it comes to our support for Taiwan.”

The United States should work directly with Taiwan to actively promote peace and stability in Asia; strengthen the bilateral economic and trade relationship; preserve democracy, human rights and media freedom; reopen blocked channels of communication; and facilitate meaningful participation in international organizations.


Promote Peace and Stability in Asia by Maintaining Taiwan's Self-Defense Capabilities and Enhancing its Ability to Cooperate with Regional Partners

Safeguarding peace and maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region is vital to U.S. core national interests. China’s unprecedented military modernization over the past two decades has created a dangerous imbalance across the Taiwan Strait. In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States should maintain regular and appropriate arms sales to help bolster the capability of Taiwan to defend itself against potential military threats. The Obama administration should specifically not only authorize the sale of advanced weapon platforms to assist Taiwan in maintaining its defense capacity, but also publicly promote joint cooperation between the United States and Taiwan on cyber-security issues. According to University of Miami professor June Teufel Dryer, “the implementation of the pivot would be severely constrained were Taiwan to be subsumed into the PRC.” It thus behooves the United States to ensure that Taiwan maintains the capacity to defend itself, and is a partner in the U.S. regional security architecture.

Providing military assistance and enhancing cooperation is in the strategic interest of the United States. Naval War College professor James Holmes argues in “Partner in the Pivot?” that “Taiwan...must think of itself as a partner in as well as a beneficiary of the United States’ strategic pirouette....The remorseless logic of self-help, whereby nation-states bear primary responsibility for their own defense, still rules international affairs.” Holmes adds that “boosting the means available for Taiwan’s defense while aligning these means with strategy befitting the weak would turn cost/benefit logic in favor of allied solidarity.” By strengthening Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, the United States contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute argued similar points in a groundbreaking article last July entitled “Taiwan’s Crucial Role in the US Pivot to Asia.” When asked by the author to articulate immediate steps that U.S. leaders could undertake to strengthen the bilateral security relationship, Mazza raised three major suggestions:

1.) There is a troubling divergence between Taiwan's military strategy and DoD's vision of what that strategy should be. The DoD seems to believe Taiwan should focus on the homeland defense mission—essentially, defending against invasion—to the exclusion of others. While Taiwan recognizes that is its most important, most pressing mission, [its] MND [Ministry of Defense] wants to field a force that can counter China across the spectrum of coercive scenarios and in all domains, albeit with asymmetric means wherever possible. This difference throws a wrench into what is already a broken arms sales process and hampers Taiwan's ability to secure the arms it believes it most needs. In 2014, DoD and MND should prioritize getting on the same page vis-a-vis Taiwan's military strategy.

2.) The United States regularly denies the ROC navy's requests for ships to stop at Pearl Harbor for resupply when transiting the Pacific to exercise with Central American allies. The U.S. Navy should reverse course and welcome such port calls.

3.) In 2001, the United States agreed to sell submarines to Taiwan, but no sale has been completed. A Taiwanese undersea warfare capability for surface interdiction would, perhaps more than any other weapons system, complicate Chinese planning and operations in the waters around Taiwan. This could force China to invest in antisubmarine warfare capabilities, thus drawing funds from China's preferred military programs, and would make Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait less likely. If the United States wants to restore balance, and thus stability, to the Taiwan Strait, DoD should make Taiwan's acquisition of new submarines a priority.

Furthermore, because the number and sophistication of Chinese cyber attacks is constantly growing, defense planners in Washington are discussing potential ways to mitigate the Chinese A2/AD threat. Mazza notes that “Taiwan has long been a prime—if not the prime—target of Chinese cyber warriors.” The United States should consequently take advantage of Taiwan’s burgeoning experience in preventing and thwarting Chinese cyber attacks. “Given the nature of the cyber domain, U.S.–Taiwan cooperation could both quiet and effective.”

Strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan Economic and Trade Relationship

Taiwan is a strong economic ally and the eleventh-largest trading partner of the United States. Bilateral annual trade was valued at approximately $63.6 billion in 2013. Taiwan is also the second largest consumer per capita of U.S. agricultural products. A world leader in high technology and knowledge-intensive industries, Taiwan is an integral part of the global supply chain.

U.S.-Taiwan trade talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) resumed in 2013. Lotta Danielsson, Vice-President of the US-Taiwan Business Council, argues that her organization’s top priority for 2014 is determining how to ensure that Taiwan can ascend to the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a round two candidate. “There is an increased and marked sense of urgency on TPP in Taiwan,” notes Danielsson. “President Ma has dropped his goal of membership in 8 years, and is now arguing for a more ambitious timetable. TPP membership for Taiwan is a must both economically and politically, and the Council believes that this goal is achievable. However, it will take a lot of work for Taiwan to achieve this goal, and having U.S. support is crucial.”

Economist and City College of New York professor Peter Chow believes that Taiwan must thwart any attempts by China to encircle its economy via potentially constricting trade pacts. In correspondence with the author, he suggested that trade diversification represents the key to Taiwan’s future growth, and is necessary to hedge against systematic risk from China.

U.S. officials as well as members of Congress have recently made positive statements regarding a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) and Taiwan’s interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Kin Moy, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stated in both oral and written statements to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “The Promise of the Taiwan Relations Act” on March 14 that “We are considering Taiwan’s interest in restarting exploratory talks for a Bilateral Investment Agreement, and we welcome Taiwan’s interest in the TPP.”

When making his opening remarks, Chairman Royce stated that “Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement is an important opportunity that we must not overlook. By working to include Taiwan in a high-quality, multilateral trade agreement, the U.S. would be helping to preserve Taiwan’s ability to do business internationally. The events unfolding in the Ukraine reminds us of the strategic weakness of relying on one major trading partner. I understand that the Government of Taiwan will soon announce its intention to seek membership in TPP. As Chairman of this Committee, I strongly urge the Administration to support Taiwan’s inclusion in TPP. American consumers and exporters would benefit.”

In a speech he presented at an American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei event last year, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) similarly stated that "I support discussions between the United States and Taiwan on a bilateral investment agreement and I have conveyed my strong support to the U.S. trade representative. I also support Taiwan’s future accession efforts in a TPP, provided that Taiwan is willing to support a high-standard, comprehensive agreement that addresses many issues, including labor and environment, currency manipulation and intellectual property rights as critical elements of it.”

Strengthening the bilateral TIFA talks and moving toward TPP negotiations are thus key priorities moving forward.

Preserve Democracy, Human Rights, and Media Freedom in Taiwan

The United States played an instrumental role in Taiwan's peaceful transition from an authoritarian regime into a democracy. There are indications, however, that Taiwan is being pressured into backtracking on civil rights and liberties for the purpose of improving cross-Strait relations.

One major concern is that the Chinese government is actively interfering in Taiwan’s free press. It made headlines by paying newspapers in Taiwan to publish editorials favorable to China, as well as pushing a pro-Beijing conglomerate to acquire multiple media outlets in Taiwan. In a summary of its findings from the 2014 Freedom of the World report, Freedom House praises the student and civil society groups that rallied to influence “political debate and government policy.” Movements such as the student “Anti-Media Monopoly Movement” successfully fought to prevent media monopolization and reject China’s efforts to manipulate information and public opinion in Taiwan. At the same time, Freedom House expressed concerns over the “political independence of prosecutors,” especially “the Special Investigation Division (SID), which is tasked with investigating high-profile cases.”