Thursday, January 06, 2011

It takes two to play at detente

How much signaling can the Ma administration do before those efforts cross the line from olive branch to capitulation?

Detente is like a carefully orchestrated minuet, with each side reacting in accordance with the subtle shifts of the other. Only when participants abide by those governing rules, and when both operate under the assumption that the other will reciprocate, can bodily poetry avoid descending into artistic catastrophe.

When it comes to efforts at detente in the Taiwan Strait launched by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), one side has shown a willingness to dance. Amid efforts to encourage better relations with Beijing, Taipei has repeatedly signaled that it is ready to de-escalate. The frequency of military exercises has been reduced and those that are held often do not involve live fire or invoke a Chinese attack. The overall military budget has been cut and now stands at about 2.5 percent of GDP, less than the 3 percent Ma had promised to secure for national defense. Officials inform us it is unlikely the military budget will increase significantly in the near future.

Budgets have tightened to such a extent that, citing “financial constraints,” the Ma administration announced in October that it would seek to defer payment on PAC-3 missile batteries and 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters it has committed to purchase from the US, raising questions over the year of delivery.

Meanwhile, reports over the last six months claim that the National Security Bureau, the nation’s top civilian intelligence service, has been ordered to stand down on intelligence collection in China and may have become less generous in sharing signals intelligence on China with key allies, such as the US and Japan. Intelligence-sharing agreements being what they are, this will likely result in reciprocal stinginess and could be disastrous in terms of preparedness for the Taiwanese military.

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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