Tuesday, November 08, 2005

 

It clearly benefits democracies in Asia.

Taiwan has a golden opportunity

By James Auer

Saturday, Nov 05, 2005,Page 8
In March 1996, when Taiwan's first democratic presidential election was held, Beijing tried to threaten the Taiwanese electorate by firing missiles into territorial waters near Keelung and Kaohsiung. Two US aircraft carriers were dispatched, the first of which, the USS Independence, arrived off Keelung from its home base in Yokosuka, Japan.

On Oct. 28th, the US and Japanese governments announced in Tokyo that the successor to the USS Independence, the USS Kitty Hawk will be replaced in 2008 with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The following day, in Washington, the US secretaries of state and defense and the Japanese ministers of foreign affairs and defense announced new roles and missions for US and Japanese forces and a realignment of US bases in Japan. Both of these announcements are very positive factors in support of Taiwan's self-determination.

The threat of North Korea's 200 plus intermediate-range Nodong missiles directly threaten Japan in the way that Chinese missiles threaten Taiwan. China helped to create North Korea's nuclear weapons program and now desires to force Taiwan from a path of self-determination to one of repression in a similar fashion to that of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

If China succeeds, not only will Taiwan lose the freedom it has enjoyed since the end of martial law and the advent of free national elections, but US and Japanese security in the Western Pacific will be compromised. China also wants to replace the US as the chief source of influence in East Asia by driving a wedge between Japan and the US and by convincing Taiwan, Southeast Asian countries and even Australia that they would be better off following Beijing rather than Washington.


Despite its economic rise China cannot succeed unless Taiwan, Japan and the other Asian countries agree to live under Chinese hegemony. The Oct. 29 joint statement reflects Washington's determination to remain meaningfully engaged and Japan's commitment to stand by its alliance partner of more than half a century.

This is not only a step which benefits Taiwan, but it clearly benefits the US, Japan and other democracies in Asia. It will be criticized by the Chinese government, as was the deployment of the two carriers in 1996, but I dare say it is even good for China whose government will respect the combined determination of Washington and Tokyo -- whose economies and militaries dwarf those of China and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The heart of the US-Japan alliance is the US Seventh Fleet which is often characterized as the "spear" of the alliance, while Japan's Self-Defense Forces are the "shield." The tip of the spear is the aircraft-carrier battle group, of which the US has 11, all of which will soon be nuclear powered and which can therefore travel faster, even in heavy seas, and can sustain themselves at sea without refueling for significant periods of time.

Only one US carrier has ever been based outside the US, in Yokosuka, where the USS Midway was sent in 1973. Its arrival strengthened the credibility of the US commitment to East Asian security immeasurably at a time when, as Beijing is saying now, Moscow was saying that it was the wave of the future in Pacific Asia.

On Feb. 19 the same four US and Japanese officials who met in Washington on Oct. 29, met in Tokyo and promulgated some "Common Strategic Objectives," one of which was maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

What this means is that, unless the Taiwanese people choose to become a province of China, the US and Japan will act to maintain Taiwan's choice to determine their livelihood independently of Chinese coercion. The Oct. 28 statement about the nuclear carrier and the Oct. 29 joint statement means that Washington and Tokyo will have a far more efficient means of achieving those Common Strategic Objectives.

As reported in an interview with the Taipei Times published on Oct. 31, retired Japanese Admiral Sumihiko Kawamura, a former anti-submarine air force commander, stated that China's submarines are mostly conventional and even its Kilo class submarines are easy to detect. He said that in conflict with the US and Japan, China's submarines were likely to last less than a week.

Asked if he thought that Taiwan needed to have new submarines as a top defense priority, Kawamura said P-3C maritime-patrol aircraft and better command, communications, coordination, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) should take precedence.

A few Taiwanese submarines which are unable to communicate with US and Japanese aircraft carriers, surface ships, maritime-patrol aircraft and submarines might not survive a Chinese onslaught, and the US and Japan would be handicapped to come to the support of a Taiwanese navy and air force with which it cannot communicate on a real time basis.

The Feb. 19 statement of US-Japan common strategic objectives was an important signal to Taiwan and to China.

The Oct. 28 aircraft carrier decision and the Oct. 29 statement of the US and Japanese governments are evidence that by linking Taiwan to the US-Japan alliance, today's young Taiwanese and their children may continue to decide their own futures, a hard fought legacy achieved by their parents and grandparents after much suffering.

Washington and Tokyo are acting in their own national interests, but their decisions of Feb. 19 and of Oct. 28 and 29 have presented Taiwan a golden opportunity for freedom in the 21st century.


James Auer is a research professor at the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. He served as a special assistant for Japan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for 10 years.


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