Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Gripen Solution

Sweden's Gripen provides great value for the cost (photo: Wikicommons)

Brian Benedictus & Michal Thim 
This piece was originally published in Strategic Vision vol. 3, no. 18 (December, 2014).  
The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) appears to be a formidable force on paper, wielding 300-plus fighter jets (excluding the obsolete F-5E/F used for training), but its most recent purchase was 150 F-16A/Bs and 60 Mirage 2000s, both approved in 1992. Earlier this month, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated the need to procure advanced fighters from the United States in order to fulfill the pending shortage of Taiwan’s air power projection capabilities. The shortage will come due to the retirement of older F-5 jets by 2019, as well as the government’s desire to retire its current batch of Mirage 2000-5Di/Ei.
The sale of American F-16 C/D fighters has been in limbo for years; with Republic of China (ROC) officials recently stating that they no longer wish to pursue such a purchase. While there have been statements issued by the ROC government expressing an interest in acquiring the F-35 5th generation fighter currently in development by the United States, the likelihood of such a sale is unrealistic at the moment due to reasons that range from the high per-unit cost and American concerns of a harsh Chinese reaction to the sale, to Taiwan’s position at the bottom of a long waiting list of other countries which have already completed agreements with the United States for the F-35.
One option would be for the ROCAF to look elsewhere. Although the Russian market produces impressive fighter jets with competitive price tags, it is closed to Taipei due to Moscow’s close relationship with Beijing, as well as its rather rigid interpretation of the One China policy. Moreover, the introduction of Russian weaponry would create another logistical headache because, under current conditions, Taiwanese jets already need to use a range of US, French, and Taiwan-made missiles on their planes, and the availability of spare parts and general service requirements would be another issue complicating their use.
Other options are no less complex. The Eurofighter Typhoon is expensive, and France most certainly would not risk angering China by offering to sell Taiwan its Rafale fighters. Taiwan, however, could choose to think outside the box in terms of seeking to acquire new jets by looking at Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen. Granted, the political ramifications that make sales difficult are not insignificant, and in many ways are not too different from the cases outlined above. Nevertheless, the Gripen would fit well with Taiwan’s defense needs, and pursuing the bid would be a worthwhile effort, even if it ultimately is destined to fail.
A sale, however unlikely, would make sense for both sides for a number of reasons. For Taiwan, adding the Gripen into its air-power portfolio would be a major upgrade in terms of overall capabilities. The newest model, the JAS 39E, would come packed with improvements over previous models. Such upgrades include a multispectral sensor suite—a system that allows the aircraft to engage stealth targets—and the ability to fly at Mach 1.25 without the use of afterburners. Moreover, the Gripen comes equipped with the Meteor ramjet-powered air-to-air missile, which is believed to have five times the lethality of the American-made AMRAAM.
The Gripen has another quality that makes it suitable for Taiwan’s conditions. As a result of Sweden’s own precarious position due to its close proximity to Russia, Sweden has always stressed the short take-off and landing (STOL) capability for its fighter jets. That also suits Taiwan’s needs very well, as part of the latter’s plan is to utilize highways and other large paved roads in times of war. F-16s and other jets in the ROCAF inventory are capable of STOL, but unlike the Gripen, they are not expressly designed for that purpose.
Sweden has also made its previous agreements buyer-friendly; with perks that have included an offer to Indonesia that encompasses a 100-percent technology transfer, as well as an agreement with Brazil that will result in the South American country building nearly 80 percent of the airframes domestically that it purchases from Sweden. If Taiwan were to be able to negotiate a similar offer in a Gripen sale, it would be a major boost to its domestic aviation industry, particularly for the country’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. This would, of course, be an ideal scenario, in which Taiwan would be relieved of the logistical burden of relying on imported spare parts.
Licensed production
While Sweden might, under certain conditions, be willing to sell Gripens to Taiwan, agreeing to licensed production is a whole different matter. European manufacturers offer licensed production to keep their products competitive against US companies that are usually unwilling to offer such deals (Japan is a notable exception, together with partner countries in the F-35 JSF program).Thus, this particular scenario works well when the seller is competing with other offers, and Taiwan’s major problem is that sellers are not exactly lining up to sell weapons to the country.
Perhaps equally important as performance is the issue of cost, and the Gripen appears to be a bargain. The per-unit price tag of Switzerland’s recent purchase of 22 Gripens is believed to have been near US$150 million. This amount also includes training, technical support, and spare parts.
Image Credit: CC 2.0 by Tomas Öhberg/Flickr
Image Credit: CC 2.0 by Tomas Öhberg/Flickr
The platform is also efficient to fly and maintain, as it has an estimated  per-hour operating cost of nearly US$7,000 and only requires six support personnel to handle maintenance—an efficient number that the demographically-challenged Taiwan would welcome. In contrast, per-unit cost estimates of the F-35 have been unreliable: While the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin hope to bring down the cost of the various F-35 models to below US$100 million, the final price tag for each unit may very well reach twice that amount.
While per-unit estimates vary, the per-hour operating cost of the F-35 can be pegged at nearly US$31,000 per flight hour, and although the total flying hours of the entire fleet is still relatively low, this would not bode well for budget-conscious legislators in Taiwan, who would not be keen to share these numbers with their constituents, especially considering the government’s plans to move forward with another expensive outlay: the ROC hopes to build four submarines of its own by 2025.
Considering all the above, it should be stressed that per-unit costs are not a very reliable indicator, as there are multiple variables affecting price. Thus, these figures need to be taken with a grain of salt. Ultimately, it also depends a great deal on whether Taiwan would be able to secure a military contract, or if the sale would go through civilian intermediaries, with the latter option making the sale and servicing significantly more expensive. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that overall costs of a Gripen purchase would be much cheaper than the F-35 alternative currently being speculated about.
Interim solution
Arguably, a Gripen sale would not need to be put forward as a competing alternative to an equally hypothetical F-35 sale: Rather, it would be an interim solution that would allow the ROCAF to retire some older combat planes without necessarily replacing their original roles (such as in the case of the Mirage 2000, which is a high-altitude fighter; a role for which there is no clear replacement) and ease the burden on the existing fleet. Moreover, Gripens can be easily integrated with existing ROCAF armaments, which would ease the logistical burden associated with acquiring a completely new plane.
All things considered, there are of course fairly obvious political obstacles on the road should Taiwan’s government proceed with the request. If the United States feels compelled to stall the sale of F-16C/Ds for nearly a decade, allegedly over worries about the Chinese reaction, why should Sweden be any different? One counter-argument is that Sweden’s economic links with China are not particularly strong: In 2012, China constituted just 3 percent of Stockholm’s exports, and 4 percent of imports. The second argument is that the sale of 60 JAS-39E/F would be the most successful foreign sale for the Swedish aerospace company Saab by a long shot. More so considering that the market for jet fighters is shrinking.
Russia, France, and the United States are producing fighter jets domestically. India recently concluded a deal for the French-built Rafale. Other potential buyers are off the table due to their involvement in and standing orders for the F-35 program. There is no other offer on the horizon that could potentially be as good as what the Taiwan offer could be. Third, some elements in the United States would be interested in making the sale happen, too; the Gripen still has several US-made parts, including the F414G-39E engine, and thus certain US defense contractors would still benefit from the deal.
That being said, obstacles do not end with Stockholm’s potential worries about retaliation from Beijing; London has the capability to block the sale due to sensitive UK-made parts (especially the scanned-array radar) used in the Gripen. Britain is arguably more economically entangled with China than Sweden is, though not significantly more so; with 3 percent of exports and 8 percent of imports in 2012 (although one could argue that this imbalance would make China be the one to feel the pain, should it move to restrict trade).
Moreover, Saab is heavily invested by the influential Wallenberg family, which also owns companies like Ericsson and Electrolux that have strong investment stakes in China. Thus, whereas incentives for the sale are strong, obstacles are formidable, too.
As noted above, Taiwan’s disadvantage is that its options are generally limited to US-made platforms in the absence of competing offers. In other words, Taiwan is usually at the wrong end of a monopoly scenario. At the very least, pursuing an acquisition elsewhere could serve to re-energize the long-stalled F-16C/D deal.
If all else fails, there is one more lesson that Taiwan can learn from looking at Sweden: A relatively small non-allied nation determined to defend its territory against a potentially hostile great power with the capability of developing its own high-quality weapon systems (albeit in cooperation with other states, technology-wise) ranging from excellent submarines and offshore defense corvettes to capable jet fighters.
There is a sense of acknowledgement among Taiwan’s defense planners that domestically built weapons are increasingly the better choice within a narrow field of options. There is no doubt that it would take a great deal of effort to develop the know-how and requisite investment in human resources. Cooperation with the United States would be required as well, but that may be less of a problem as selling parts may be less controversial in Washington circles than selling combat-ready platforms. Taiwan is not yet in a situation to become like Sweden in terms of its own defense industry, but it very well may be in 20 years’ time. Long-term investment in developing this capability has to start at some point, and there is no better time than the present.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

China's Korea Problem


In my piece published today by the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, I discuss the challenges that China faces in attempting to balance an increasingly complex set of relationships which involve North and South Korea. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Taiwan's Impending Independence Surge

(Photo: Wikicommons)

The fact that the occupation of the Taiwan legislature by student activists earlier this spring was woefully under-reported, is disappointing for a number of reasons. Primarily, the world missed an opportunity to see the changes in social and political identities sweeping across the island nation. These generational changes that are taking place in Taiwan, along with external factors such as China’s treatment of Hong Kong and its increasing bellicosity in its littoral areas, are going to reshape local politics in a way that suggests in the not-too-distant future, there is going to be a powerful new impetus for independence in Taiwan.

(The full article written by Michael Turton  and myself for Ketagalan Media can be accessed here.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Missing the Point on Taiwan's Pursuit of Submarines

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Yesterday Lauren Dickey of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote a a piece that advocated against  Taiwan acquiring submarines, as well as the United States assisting in supplying them. While Dickey touches on a number of interesting aspects involving the longstanding-saga behind Taiwan's quest to obtain a modern sub fleet, there were a number of widely accepted notions that have often been passed along as facts regarding this issue.

Dickey says  that "the interest of the Ma Ying-jeou government in developing indigenous submarine capabilities has resurfaced", when in fact Taiwan's interest has remained constant for decades.  A number of House and Senate staff members have told this author that officials from Taiwan have consistently approached them (albeit discreetly) with various proposals outlining scenarios in which the United States could assist Taiwan in its quest to acquire modern submarines--either with American industrial/logistical support or through America's diplomatic maneuvering with a third country that would be willing to partake in such an endeavor. These meetings between Taiwanese officials and Congressional Members and their staff are not a new development.  While Dickey does correctly state that the Bush Administration's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program was evaluated to have a high cost (over ten billion) leading to political posturing between then President Chen's Administration and the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), it doesn't necessarily mean that Taiwan's government could not compromise in reaching adequate funding for such a program.  In fact, submarine acquisition is one of the few national security areas that both sides of the political spectrum in Taiwan agree is a necessity.

Dickey goes on to state " can only begin to wonder why the Taiwanese defense establishment isn't looking elsewhere to fulfill its wish list."--Only to answer her own question in the following paragraph, stating that the only option for Taiwan in recent years has been to acquire weapons from the only country that is willing to disregard China's threats (up to a certain point) which has been  the United States.

As I stated earlier, Taiwan is actively looking for a third country to assist in the providing either plans for a submarine design or, less likely, the actual sale of subs to Taiwan directly. Due to constant Chinese pressure,  Taiwan realizes that  cannot simply send a delegation to Germany, Sweden, or Japan requesting a bilateral sale of modern submarines, or it would have undoubtedly done so years ago.

 Taipei is seeking to keep its options open,which  requires innovative thinking, and its desire in acquiring a modern fleet is by no means a recent "ask" by the Taiwanese government. Due to the fact that the U.S. has not produced diesel submarines in well over a half century means that a 3rd country will  have to be involved if any deal is reached. It has been a long-standing request approved by the Bush administration over 10 years ago.  Yet with so many instances involving U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the submarine question is one remaining in limbo.

From a strategic standpoint, Dickey argues that "any submarines acquired by Taiwan may actually do more harm than good, due to their vulnerabilities to existing Chinese weapons.", citing Professor William Murray's well circulated "Porcupine Theory" in which he states Taiwan would be best served in developing its defense capabilities at the expense of maintaining high ticket items, such as fighter jets and submarines.

While I believe that many of Murray's ideas that Dickey advocates  make a great deal of sense strategically for Taiwan from a defensive point of view, the notion that Taiwan should abandon a lethal asymmetrical platform like modern submarines--a platform that is widely believed to be an PLAN Achilles Heel when it comes countering such platforms---and instead investing the overwhelming bulk of its military assets in preparation for being perpetually pummeled by a Chinese military that would have a seemingly infinite supply of offensive weapons at its disposal--sounds more akin to an Alamo strategy rather than a sound defensive strategy.

I do however, agree with Dickey in that Taiwan should continue to invest in its ASW capabilities in order to monitor PLAN submarine activity.  Yet there is a dilemma if Taiwan were to follow Dickey's (and by extension Murray's) ideas at face value: If Murray is in fact correct in his belief that the majority of Taiwan naval surface fleet would be destroyed at the outset of a China-Taiwan conflict, and that Taiwan's air force would be rendered impotent due to the PLA 2nd Artillery Corps missile salvos that would destroy most, if not all of Taiwan's air strips, there are two questions that need to be answered.  First, how would Taiwan utilize their newly acquired antisubmarine aircraft, and second, even if said aircraft were able to be deployed under combat conditions, of what use would this data be if Taiwan has no platforms in which to counter the Chinese underwater threat?  Surveillance cameras would not hold much value in the deterring potential criminals if they knew that a society had no means of force to counter such actions.

Finally, for Dickey to state that Washington doesn't have the "time nor money" requisite to help Taiwan develop its submarine program, while it has ample time and resources  to strengthen relationships with other long-standing allies (Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines), and cultivating new ones (Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia) is a massive oversimplification of the current situation regarding Taiwan's long standing request of a modern submarine fleet, and the topic deserves a much deeper examination than given by Dickey.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tempering Expectations...Why a Vietnam-U.S. Strategic Alliance might Not be all its cracked up to be

(Courtesy of Wiki commons) 
In an article featured today in The Diplomat, I questioned the reality of a meaningful security partnership between the United States and Vietnam developing, and what might stand in the way of said partnership taking place. While Patrick Cronin and General Dempsey both make insightful and compelling arguments for doing so, this author is skeptical weather the countries could align their interests enough to make such a partnership viable.

The full article can be accessed here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why China and Taiwan are really different (My latest for Ketagalan Media)

(photo credit:

The topic of ethnicity and nationality can be a sensitive topic.  Today I discussed how the Chinese Communist Party perceives them  in both their current social policies within China, as well as how it applies said issues towards Taiwan.  (Special thanks to Ketagalan Media's co-founder Chieh-Ting Yeh for adding some great edits and insight into the article as well).

Full article access can be found here, at Ketagalan Media's excellent site. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Golf and Lightning-The Odd Realm of Sports in North Korea

(Photo from Wiki Stock)

(A brief sample of my article from today's Diplomat): 

Among the adjectives that can be used to describe The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), “dull” is not one that can be easily applied. Many stories that come from the DPRK’s state media are cloaked in mythical overtones (take for instance 
this official DPRK account of the events surrounding the death of former leader Kim Jong-il), while others seek legitimacy in the form of “official studies” done by its government. In 2011, for example, the DPRK released the results of a study that revealed its citizens were residing in the second happiest nation on earth, with China taking the top spot (one guess as to which country placed dead last, in 203rd slot).

(The complete article can be accessed here at The Diplomat. 

Bonus Link!------ Did you know that North Korea recently claimed to have developed a new sports drink? From mushrooms? Somehow I doubt Gatorade is worried about its market share. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the Vault.....

(Photo from Politico)

(I came across this piece that I forgot to publish a few months back, so here you are...) 

 Professor J.M. Norton of China's Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), penned an article for The Diplomat in which he gave his theories as to the sources of US-China strategic mistrust   Within the piece Norton lays out not only what he perceives to be Beijing's perspective on the distrust within the relationship (as well appearing to espouse his own views on the issue as well).  While Norton makes the argument that the dynamics of  American relationships with both Taiwan and Japan are the primary causes of distrust, he does so while misinterpreting American positions on a number of issues, as well as  ignoring actions taken by Beijing that  play a large role in forging distrust between the two nations. 

     Norton states that while "The 1972, 1979 and 1982 joint communiques serve as the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations", they also "paradoxically undermine bilateral ties in two vital areas:  Taiwan and Japan."   Norton, like the PRC, appear to grant documents such as joint communiques and declarations a much higher status than is warranted. As far back as 1982 Assistant Secretary of State John H. Holdridge in his testimony
 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that:

"We should keep in mind that what we have here is not a treaty or agreement but a statement of future U.S. policy.  We fully intend to implement this policy, in accordance with our understanding of it." 

     The State Department has also clearly stated that "...non-binding documents exist in many forms, including declarations of intent, joint communique and joint statements (including final acts of conferences), and informal arrangements."  This is important to note because Norton also states that "At the conclusion of the war, the U.S. along with other powers in the Cairo, Potsdam and Yalta agreements returned Taiwan to China".  I would counter this by making two points.  First, these declarations did not state a transfer of sovereignty of Taiwan--they merely called for Japan to cease its sovereignty over the island that it held since the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895--and did not specify what the status of Taiwan was to become.  Secondly, these declarations only signaled intent, and were not treaties of legally binding character.

     Norton later goes into the 1982 joint communique stating that "The Chinese leadership has been and continues to be confused by some sales and discussions of proposed sales of weapons with offensive capabilities, which reach as far back as 1992 when the U.S. sold F-16 A/B fighters to Taiwan.  While it is true that a number of weapon platforms sold by the US to Taiwan could be used for offensive purposes, it is often in the eyes of the beholder of what constitutes an "offensive" weapon, as well as taking common sense into account of what a military would realistically use a weapon for.  The leadership is well aware of why Taiwan purchases such hardware, and know that they need not fear the day where ROCAF F-16's are flying off the coast of Fujian Province attempting to establish air superiority in a prelude to a Taiwanese military offensive.  While Norton emphasizes Beijing's stance that Washington has not fully adhered to the principles of the joint communiques, he only in passing mentions Beijing's continued build up of its missile arsenal along its coast---nearly all of which are directed at Taiwan--and attempts to portray the PRC as an innocent peacemaker who wishes merely to have a dance with the United States, only to see itself alone on the dance floor without any rational reason why. 

     Norton then moves on to the next bone of contention---the U.S.-Japan relationship, where he looks to frame Beijing's perception of the United States enabling Japan's ambition of reawakening it's dreams of a Pacific Empire:

"Right now the Chinese leadership sees the U.S. as the main driver of Japan's resurgence and as lacking the political will to restrain an increasingly assertive Japan.  Further, the current Japanese leadership's growing assertiveness takes place in the context of growing nationalism with an imperial twist." 

     Norton states that these "American motives" violate the spirit of the previous communiques, while not specifying what exactly constitutes Japanese assertiveness.  Japan, for its part, has not made any new territorial claims in recent years that could be construed as "growing assertiveness", only it has made clear to other potential claimants that its long claimed territories of the Senkaku islands, as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone that falls within in it, are under the jurisdiction of Japan, an area in which the United States recently clearly clarified
.  Norton would do well to look towards Chinese actions in the East Asian region to find the source of many areas of contention in the region. One area that concerns China,  ironically, is Japan's renewed commitment towards modernizing its military capabilities, is due primarily  to Chinese actions and aggressive behavior--not from American prodding.

 Chinese military action in the Scarborough Shoal
The Second Thomas Shoal , increased rhetoric towards Vietnam regarding territorial disputes, and of course the ongoing Senkaku island disputes have alarmed not only Japan, but other nations in the region as well who are now looking  to modernizing their respective military capabilities  Finally, Norton says that the Chinese leadership believes that "American leadership has ambitious regional designs that include a major role for Japan.  And for obvious reasons this undercuts commitments made in the 1972 and 1978 communiques."   Once again China (and Norton?) make the mistake of placing American joint communiques with China on the same level as an American security treaty with Japan, which they are not.  Yet China is correct in assuming that the United States has ambitious regional designs in regards to Eastern Asia---as the United States has played the role of primary peacekeeper in the region since the end of the Second World War, and under such an arrangement has created an atmosphere of stability in the region in which many countries have seen their economies flourish.  The United States maintains core interests in the areas of trade and security in the region, and it would be illogical to not include a long time security partner in Japan from such interests--China fails to see that their policies are the root cause of many issues in the region--not American relationships with Taiwan and Japan, and J.M. Norton does Beijing no favors in glossing over what could be deemed fairly obvious.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Thunder Dragon Caught Between Two Tigers

At first glance, the Kingdom of Bhutan would not seem to be a country that would factor heavily in the calculus of regional powers. With a land mass smaller than that of the Dominican Republic and with fewer people than Fiji, this landlocked Himalayan country has nonetheless become increasingly important strategically to both New Delhi and Beijing. The reason for this interest is not untapped mineral riches or a large consumer class, but Bhutan’s geographical location. As the Kingdom has only in recent years begun to open itself up to the outside world (only legalizing television and the internet in 1999 ), it finds itself caught up in a discreet but high stakes diplomatic battle being waged between India and China.

My article in its entirety, published today on The Diplomat, continues here

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Mandatory Disclaimer-- Why do so many Western media articles about Taiwan have to sound the same?

(photo: wiki commons)

Disclaimer: I am a news junkie when it comes to Taiwan.  I enjoy its political scene (and unique international status), the David vs. Goliath narrative involving China, the security-military dynamic, and of course  the eclectic makeup  of Taiwanese culture that makes Taiwan, well, Taiwan.  I rarely skip an article posted on thinking-taiwanthe diplomat , Taiwan in Perspective , and of course we can't forget my  good friend Michael Turton .  Much of the reading on these sites, however, could be a bit confusing (or even intimidating based on the day) for someone who doesn't have at least a basic understanding of Taiwanese history and/or current events that have transpired throughout Taiwanese society in recent years (or even months).  Normally  however, I make it a point to simply bypass Taiwan-related news stories from  major Western media outlets.

 When it comes to reading Taiwan related pieces or stories in major Western media outlets, I often bypass them (when there are even any to read) for two reasons.  The first is time constraints--there only so many hours in a day, and thanks to the internet there are seemingly infinite quality options to choose from that often go into much deeper into a story than you will find from the said outlets. And the second reason should be more troubling to Taiwan supporters, which is the 'cookie cutter' mentality that seems to be increasingly making its way into mainstream media Taiwan related articles. Call it quite simply-lazy journalism.  To prove my point try a quick experiment: Google "Taiwan" and pull an article from any major media publication over the past few years that involves Taiwan and its international status, Taiwan and China relations, or a similar topic of your choice. I can safely assume that the following phrase will show up in your chosen article in some form or another:

"China considers Taiwan a renegade province and considers it to be a part of its territory, and vows to reclaim the island by force if necessary." 

While any regular observer of Taiwan will all likelihood glance right over this statement (after you've read it 724 times you hardly realize its there), the troubling part is that for many people who are not regular observers of Taiwan--this sentence could essentially create a false narrative in their way of thinking about Taiwan--and what it is or is not.  And seemingly every  major news story about Taiwan that is covered by Western media has to throw this line in their reporting. Every. Single. Time.   So for the casual reader who was savvy enough to sift through all of the articles covering Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in March (and into April) to discover that in Taiwan  a student led protest movement had swelled to the point of occupying its countries'  legislative chamber to protest a shadowy trade deal during the same time, they likely would have read some basics of the event, along with the obligatory 'China considers Taiwan.....' disclaimer.  Well that's just peachy that the journalist felt the need to disclose the official position of the Chinese government, but isn't the article supposed to be about Taiwan?

The Chinese position is by no means unimportant; it does affect Taiwan in a variety of ways. But isn't there another side to the story that should be told? After all, wouldn't a reader who is new to the Taiwan dynamic  be left wondering, "Well, why is Taiwan not a part of China now? Why does China have to take it by force? Did Taiwan leave China?"---All perfectly fair questions.  So instead of potentially creating a false perception of Taiwan being a "renegade province" (renegade (adj.)-having treacherously changed allegiance); which could in itself foster negative connotations of Taiwan "breaking away" from its country for reasons unknown, other options are available. Maybe something like this:

"Although China considers Taiwan part of its territory, since its creation in 1949 The People's Republic of China has never governed Taiwan, nor had any jurisdiction over its citizens."

Different eh? Perhaps even such a phrase could leave a reader new to Taiwan with a different initial impression about what China says and what reality actually is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

U.S. Policy and International Law: Taiwan's Friend

Fellow Ohio native (and suffering Browns fan) Michael Turton and myself teamed up to pen an article  in  the Diplomat to refute Julian Ku's claim that an American-Japanese defense of Taiwan in the case of a Chinese military attack would be against international law.  Mr. Turton and myself decided to use controversial tactics--reason, facts, precedent, and yes international law to make our case. 

Julian Ku’s two recent pieces in The Diplomat contending that a PRC invasion of Taiwan would be legal and that the U.S. and Japan both recognize that Taiwan is part of China betray a shocking lack of understanding of U.S. policy on Taiwan and its international status. Ku asserts:
“I get that this is a complicated issue, but I don’t think I am ‘misreading’ historical documents when I write that 1) the U.S. recognizes the PRC as the government of China and that the U.S. accepts that Taiwan is part of China, and 2) Japan recognizes the PRC as the government of China (see the 1972 Joint Communique), and Japan accepts that Taiwan is a part of China. Sure, neither country recognizes that Taiwan is a part of the PRC, but both the U.S. and Japan have made clear that China is a single legal entity that includes Taiwan, and that the PRC is the sole government in charge of this entity.”
Actually, this is not a complex issue; it is a simple issue: the U.S. does not recognize that Taiwan is part of China. Any version of China. Rather, the U.S. position is that the status of Taiwan has yet to be determined. It has been that way for more than six decades. 
 The initial post that began  the debate is available here, and follow-ups in the debate can be found herehere and here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Greatest Arms Sale Never Sold- How Taiwan could enhance its security by moving closer to its long time friend


Imagine for a moment a scenario in which Taiwan was presented a security alliance that was so politically sensitive that it was never to be mentioned by the governments of either country. Any questions regarding such an agreement would be neither confirmed nor denied by the states involved. In the event Taiwan was the victim of an unprovoked attack, it would conditionally receive the support of a modernized and capable navy—frigates and destroyers kitted with AEGIS combat systems, helicopters and aircraft that would provide the latest in anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and diesel submarines widely recognized as being among the best in service. Taiwan could also be the recipient of support from this ally’s air force—highly trained pilots flying fourth and fifth generation aircraft that would provide support under such dire conditions. All that is asked of Taiwan in return is that it continues its trajectory of maintaining a long-standing friendship with this country.
This agreement however, comes with a major caveat: This ally gives no actual guarantee that it would commit to Taiwan’s defense, and would only reveal its intentions shortly before or immediately following the commencement of hostilities. The United States, you say? That’s so Cold War. Taiwan’s potential ‘silent partner’ lies much closer to its shores—the state of Japan.  
The full article can be accessed here at Ketagalan Media.  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vietnam's 'Silent Service' Challenge

My recent piece for the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute: 

     On May 28th at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, Russia, the last of six Kilo-class diesel electric submarines (SSK) purchased by the government of Vietnam, was laid to complete construction.  The vessels, for the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (VPN) in 2009, are expected to become the capital ships of the PAVN upon their completion and delivery (the third vessel is expected to be delivered to Vietnam in November, with the remaining three expected to be delivered in 2015 and 2016).
Decision makers in Hanoi are certainly not calculating that this platform purchase will give the VPN some level of parity with the China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). It could, however, force China’s hand in showing how far it is willing to escalate its territorial disputes with Vietnam if the territorial disputes are not resolved by the time the vessels enter into active service. 
The full article can be accessed at The University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute site here.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

More U.S. Resolve Needed to Counter China's Growing Aggression in East Asia

(Photo-Wiki Commons)

My recent article in The University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute Blog countering ideas proposed by Harry White's recent piece in the National Interest that the United States would be better served by abandoning Taiwan for the sake of better relations with China is available here.  Thanks for reading! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Legislation Introduced in US Congress would greatly enhance American Security Interests in Asia

Rep. Forbes 
On Monday, it was announced that Chairman of the House Armed Services Sea power and Projection Forces Subcommittee and Chairman of the Congressional China Caucus Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) co-authored legislation titled the "Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act"--which they plan introduce this week. If enacted into law, this bill would add a series of Congressional mandates into America's Asian security posture intended to strengthen current relationships with allies in the region.

While portions of the bill seek to strengthen ties by economic means ("requesting a a direct report on future U.S.-Republic of Korea Security and Trade cooperation)--much of the bill focuses on military posture and analysis.

Some of the bill's proposals include:

Rep. Hanabusa 

  • Requiring an Independent Assessment of Anti-Access/Area-Denial Challenges 
  • Requiring Net Assessment of Chinese Naval Modernization to conduct a study of the maritime balance of forces in the Asia-Pacific
-This provision will be interesting to those who have heard of The Office of Net Assessment; a secretive Pentagon-based think tank that was created under President Nixon (and whose director, 91 year old Andrew Marshall still reigns as the director).  The ONA has been thought of (often negatively by its critics) as being "obsessed" with China in military terms for the better part of the last 20 years, and such a report would likely paint a menacing picture of Chinese naval capabilities.

  • Requiring the Department of Defense to submit a report on cross-Strait balance of maritime forces between China and Taiwan
-This report would also likely show the ever-growing gap between Chinese and Taiwanese naval capabilities--and be used by China hawks and supporters of Taiwan in Congress to place additional pressure on the current Administration to make available modern naval platforms for sale to Taiwan, as well as possible American assistance in aiding Taiwan's desire to develop it's own domestic submarine program.

  • Requiring Development of a Pacific Command Munitions Strategy 
  • Directing improvements in missile defense cooperation and capabilities
--The bill specifically mentions missile defense cooperation with Japan and the Republic of Korea

It will be interesting to see if the bill gains traction on the Hill in the form of additional co-sponsors, which will be the tell-tale sign of this bill moving forward in the House. Rep. Forbes does hold substantial sway with his Committee assignments and tenure in Washington, so the bill would appear to have a chance of gaining momentum in the coming weeks.

Are the "Six Assurances" still a Cornerstone in US-Taiwan Relations?

There are a number of questions following the recent Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee Hearing on U.S. policy towards Taiwan that took place two weeks ago that were left unanswered. Perhaps the most prevalent of these questions is if current U.S. policy towards Taiwan still includes the Six Assurances doctrine as one its primary components.  My full letter to the Taipei Times that was printed today can be viewed here.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Taiwan's past with nuclear weapons research

While a number of protests and high-profile hunger strikes are currently gripping Taiwan over the objections of completing the island's 4th nuclear power plant, there was a time in the not so distant past where the country's leadership was secretly looking to use nuclear technology for a darker purpose---nuclear weapons.  For a fascinating  look into this program, one should look no further than The National Security Archives to read "New Archival Evidence on Taiwanese "Nuclear Intentions", 1966-1976."  While a great deal of Taiwan's nuclear weapons program is still classified by both the American and Taiwanese governments, this 1999 publishing has a great deal of information. Some of the more interesting aspects include:

  • A highly sophisticated game of cat-and-mouse between two allies, with the government of Chiang Kai-shek seeking to develop nuclear capabilities; and looking outward to Israel, Canada, and West Germany for assistance, while trying to convince the United States and the IAEA that it was not seeking nuclear weapon capabilities. 
  • Further information on the death of IAEA inspector Pierre Noir, who died in 1978 while inspecting Taiwan's nuclear program.  Conspiracy theorists have even stated that his death was not accidental (although declassified documents over the past decade seem to have put this idea to rest). For more on the circumstances behind Noir's death, this link will be of interest.  
  • A deeper look into why the United States government was petrified of Taiwan's program (it was not a coincidence that the US took a more aggressive posture towards the program during the Nixon and Ford administrations as both were seeking a closer relationship with the PRC)

The documents, however,  still fail to answer some major questions about Taiwan's program.  For example, there has yet to be a definitive answer as to who exactly in Taiwan's leadership was the driving force behind the program.  Although CKS was believed to be the original driving force of attempting to develop a program, he would have needed additional support for such an endeavor (Chiang's son and eventual successor,  Premier Chiang Ching-kuo is widely believed to have also played a major role).  Additionally, it is not known what type of sticks the United States threatened Taiwan with in order to have the program stopped.  While the report does not fully lift the veil of secrecy from the program, it does make for a fascinating read. 

For a related story: Jeffrey Lewis of "Arms Control Wonk"  recently published some satellite pictures  of  Taiwan's decommissioned research reactor that was used for weapons research, which was complete with an unsafeguarded exit port in the reactor's fuel pond---which means that it was highly likely fuel was being diverted for a nuclear weapon.