Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Robert Gates leaves behind

His hands full with two major wars and an unstable North Korea, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made sure the Pentagon did not contradict the White House and the NSC on Taiwan and China

In his book Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward writes that rather than take the lead on policy, Robert Gates tends to carefully evaluate which direction the wind is blowing in Washington before committing himself. This assessment of Gates’ personality as an old political survivor is supported by his role in shaping — or not shaping — US policy on Taiwan.

Over the years, few things have encapsulated Washington’s relations with Taipei as arms sales to Taiwan, an exercise whose significance goes well beyond the actual military items acquired by the island. In fact, arms sales have become a symbol of Washington’s commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act, which was signed into law in 1979 after the United States switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing.

During Gates’ tenure, the Pentagon was largely uninvolved in decision-making regarding the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. The US, per its commitments under the TRA, must endeavor to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself against China. That the balance of power has been allowed to shift to such an extent in Beijing’s favor is a reflection of policy preferences at the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department.

My take on Gate’s legacy, part of a photo essay in The Diplomat, continues here. Don’t miss the assessments by other commentators on Gates’ impact on the region.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Losing the new intelligence war

The Ma administration is orchestrating a fundamental reorientation in Taiwan’s posture vis-a-vis China that has created unprecedented opportunities for PRC espionage 

Despite a rapidly changing international context during the past half-century, the task of Taiwan’s national security apparatus has remained surprisingly stable and to this day continues to revolve around the sole principle of defending the nation from external aggression.

From the moment Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) abandoned its policy of “retaking” China from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the nature of the Taiwanese military turned into one that was — and is — predicated on homeland defense. While this may seem self-evident, it nevertheless contrasts sharply with other militaries whose mission is often capabilities-based, where technology and the options to which it gives rise drive policy.

Capabilities-based military forces, such as that of the US and, increasingly, China, are by default outward-looking, scanning for contingencies that reflect the latest weapons systems that are being developed or fielded. To a large degree, the Taiwanese military, and to a similar degree the South Korean military, look at their role from the opposite direction, developing policies and technologies to meet the very specific purpose of defending the nation. Theirs is therefore an inward-looking posture.

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

MND denies claims new F-16 bid failed

More confusion over attempts by Taiwan to purchase advanced fighter aircraft from the US

The Ministry of National Defense yesterday denied reports that Taiwan’s latest bid to purchase new F-16 aircraft was turned down by the US Department of State on Friday.

In an article on Monday, Defense News reported that the State Department had turned down a request by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington to submit a new official letter of request (LOR) to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) for the 66 F-16C/Ds, which Taiwan has sought to purchase for years.

The article said the State Department had blocked the request on behalf of the US National Security Council.

A US source independently confirmed to the Taipei Times yesterday that the request was turned down.

This would be the fourth failed attempt to submit an LOR for the F-16s and the first by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. The first three bids were made between June 2006 and February 2007 under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leaked memo highlights CCP fear of Taiwan

In addition to directives constraining what Internet commentators can write about Taiwan, the US and democracy, a large number of keywords has been blocked on Sina Weibo, one of the most popular social media platforms in China

Leaked internal directives from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) provincial authorities to Internet commentators issued in the past week highlight fears in Beijing of the potentially “negative” impact of closer contact with democratic Taiwan.

The leaked memo, posted by the China Digital Times on Friday last week, instructs Internet commentators in China to exercise caution when discussing sensitive matters such as Taiwan and the US.

“In order to circumscribe the influence of Taiwanese democracy, in order to progress further in the work of guiding public opinion, and in accordance with the requirements established by higher authorities to ‘be strategic, be skilled,’ we hope that Internet commentators conscientiously study the mindset of netizens, grasp international developments, and better perform the work of being an Internet commentator,” the notice says.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

A small victory for freedom

An agreement between the largest telecoms operator in Taiwan and New Tang Dynasty Television gives hope that whenever pressure is strong and sustained enough, Taiwan can retain its hard-earned liberties and values

Under an administration that has faced its share of criticism by free speech advocates and journalists’ associations over the past three years, news last week that a row between New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD) and Chunghwa Telecom had been resolved was reason to rejoice.

Following weeks of uncertainty over whether Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan’s largest telecommunications operator, would reverse its decision not to renew the broadcasting contract for NTD once it switched transmission to a new satellite in August, officials confirmed that an agreement had been reached and that the 3 million or so people in Taiwan who subscribe to the channel would continue to be able to watch it.

Chunghwa Telecom’s initial reaction, which contained both contradictions over alleged technical limitations and signs of intransigence, only inflamed speculation that the decision to drop NTD, well known for its critical reportage on the Chinese Communist Party, may have been political. The fact that the initial decision coincided with news that Chunghwa Telecom was expanding into the Chinese market could only compound fears that the company had struck a Faustian deal for reasons of access to the huge market across the Taiwan Strait.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continnues here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

CCP official ‘honeybaited’ by Taiwan: cable

News that former Chinese officials may have been seduced by an alleged Taiwanese spy come amid reports that China has been opening a series of ‘spy schools’ on university campuses

When Chinese authorities announced that former Chinese minister of finance Jin Renqing (金人慶) was stepping down in August 2007, they claimed he was doing so for “personal reasons.” According to a series of classified US diplomatic cables recently released by Wiki-Leaks, the real reason behind Jin’s resignation was his romantic involvement with a woman who was linked to several other prominent Chinese officials.

That woman [I have just learned she is being referred to as “Li Wei, 李薇”], it is alleged, was a Taiwanese intelligence operative.

One of the cables, sent by the US consulate in Shanghai and dated Sept. 7, 2007, described how some members of the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would pass mistresses around and how one woman — described by a US official as “a promiscuous socialite” — had been involved romantically with at least three of them.

Aside from Jin, former Sinopec Corp (中國石化) chairman Chen Tonghai (陳同海) and former Chinese minister of agriculture Du Qinglin (杜青林) were suspected of ties with the woman.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Note: It is said of “李薇” (whom reports say could also be one “Li Jie, 李姐”) that though she was not a “stunning beauty,” she had good conversation manners and used gentle words, “with gentle femininity.” Described as low-key, when major decisions needed to be made, she could “stroke the table to set the tone,” and was “vigorous and resolute.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

US senator ups ante on stalled F-16 sale

A curveball by the senator from Texas could force the hand of an Obama administration that has been loath to anger Beijing over arms sales to Taiwan

In a surprising turn of events over US arms sales to Taiwan, a US senator said he would use his powers to block a full Senate vote on the appointment of a new deputy secretary of state until Washington approves the sale of F-16C/D aircraft requested by Taipei.

US Senator for Texas John Cornyn, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the US Department of State must inform Taipei that it would act on a formal Letter of Request (LOR) from the Taiwanese government to purchase 66 new F-16C/Ds. Should Washington fail to do so, Cornyn said he would use his powers to block a full Senate vote on the nomination of William Burns, currently US undersecretary of state for political affairs, as deputy secretary of state, the Washington Times reported on Wednesday, citing information from Senate aides.

Cornyn’s threatened hold also applies to the release by the Pentagon of a long-delayed report to Congress on the balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here with comments by Rupert Hammond Chambers and Joseph Wu.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ex-US Army chief of staff visits Taiwan

Such visits, though low profile, are nevertheless perceived as a symbol of continued US involvement, both at the official and unofficial level, in the defense of Taiwan

A little more than two months after retiring as US Army chief of staff, four-star General George Casey Jr is visiting Taiwan at the invitation of the Republic of China Army, sources have confirmed to the Taipei Times.

Among other activities, Casey was scheduled to address National Defense University sometime this week. Although the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) would neither confirm the visit nor provide an itinerary, Casey is believed to have visited the AIT’s office as well as the site of its future home in Neihu (內湖). Unconfirmed reports say Casey has also visited a number of military bases and is being escorted around by a Defense Intelligence Agency official from the institute.

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, who also would not confirm Casey’s visit, said it was not unusual for Taiwan to extend invitations to recently retired senior US military officers.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

US, Japan call for strong Asia-Pacific defense

While it strove to avoid singling out China, the joint statement of the 2+2 ministerial was a clear indicator that Beijing is increasingly a source of worry for the region

Top US and Japanese defense and foreign affairs officials on Tuesday reaffirmed the US-Japan Alliance and called for peaceful resolution of disputes in the Taiwan Strait through dialogue, while admitting that plans to relocate US troops from a military base in Okinawa would miss their deadline.

The Security Consultative Committee meeting, held in Washington, involved US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Takeaki Matsumoto and Japanese Minister of National Defense Toshimi Kitazawa. This was the first meeting of the committee, informally known as the “2+2 ministerial,” in four years.

In a joint statement, the committee said it recognized the need to address a number of challenges in an “increasingly uncertain security environment,” which included expanding military capabilities and activities in the region, as well as the emergence of non-traditional security concerns.

The US government reaffirmed its commitment to the defense of Japan and to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, including through regional alliances and the full range of US military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Who’s in charge of policymaking?

It would be in the interest of the Ma administration to call China’s Taiwan Affairs Office to account over recent comments that make a mockery of the sovereignty of Taiwan

More and more, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) is behaving as if Taiwan were under the administrative control of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Two recent instances suffice to highlight the matter — one involving a soon-to-be-implemented policy allowing individual Chinese to travel to Taiwan and the other concerning reports that the Taiwanese navy would send vessels to patrol waters surrounding contested islands in the South China Sea.

In both cases, comments by TAO officials purposefully gave the impression that real decision-making powers existed not in Taipei, but rather in Beijing. Whether those comments were propaganda efforts or stemmed from a firm, if confabulatory belief that this is the case is not as important as the fact that the government in Taipei failed to counter the claims with the decisiveness that the situation called for.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

China’s first aircraft carrier set for sea trial next week

Symbolism and signaling are both behind the decision to take the ‘Varyag’ on its first venture away from port

After years of refurbishing in Dalian, the Soviet-era Varyag will embark on its first sea trial on July 1 to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party — and to send a signal to neighboring states amid rising tensions in the South China Sea. Chinese officials, however, say a number of variables, including bad weather, could force a rescheduling.

As to the official launch of the yet-to-be named carrier (“Shi Lang” is just one of many options, officials claim), we’ll have to wait until Oct. 1, 2012, with a solid year of work remaining to be completed on weapons systems and other devices.

My article, published today in Jane’s Defence Weekly, continues here.

PLA Navy JT-9 trainer aircraft unveiled

The new trainer aircraft is yet another piece falling into place in China’s aspirations for an aircraft-carrier force

The People’s Liberation Army Navy last week made public footage of its brand new JT-9 advanced carrier-borne training aircraft, which Chinese media claimed was “superior” to the US’ T-45 “Goshawk.” The JT-9, which initial reports had referred to as the JL-9H, is expected to become the main platform on which Chinese navy pilots practice takeoffs and landings on a carrier deck. Several months of training (and some losses) lie ahead for PLAN pilots before they attain the skill levels needed to be operational at sea.

My article, published today in Jane’s Defence Weekly, continues here (subscription required).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blame the pirates, not Washington

Taiwanese officials who are growing impatient with the US over the death of a Taiwanese ship captain earlier this year should think twice before lodging accusations

Taiwan is no stranger to the threat posed by piracy at sea and the death of captain Wu Lai-yu (吳來于) last month during a gun battle between NATO and Somali pirates, who were keeping him captive on his ship, is a stark reminder of that reality.

Since the incident was made public, Taiwanese authorities and fishermen’s organizations have become increasingly vocal in their claims that US and NATO authorities have failed to provide a full account of what went wrong during the operation against the hijacked Jih Chun Tsai No. 68.

While it is perfectly reasonable for Wu’s family and Taiwanese authorities to expect answers on the matter, Wu’s accidental death should not be used to drive a wedge between Taipei and Washington, which it threatens to do as senior Taiwanese officials signal their impatience.

Unfortunate as Wu’s death may be, we should not forget that ultimately it was the Somali pirates, and not the officers on board the USS Stephen W. Groves or NATO members involved in counterpiracy efforts, who bear responsibility for his death. Had Somali pirates not broken international law and hijacked his vessel, Wu would be alive today, and no amount of finger pointing or proclamations of patience running short will resuscitate him.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Taiwan adopts leniency provision to address growing espionage problem

Facing an overwhelming espionage threat, Taiwan is adopting counter-intelligence measures that, at best, will only provide stopgap benefits

In the wake of the nation’s worst spy case in half a century, Taiwan’s legislature has passed an amendment to regulations that would grant lenient treatment, and in some cases pardons, to double agents who voluntarily turn themselves in.

Under existing law, spies who surrender to the authorities still face up to life imprisonment. The amendment, introduced in early June, is seen as an incentive to prevent additional damage to national security. Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), a legislator from the ruling Kuomintang who initiated the legal revision, said recent major espionage cases, such as that involving Major General Lo Hsien-che (羅賢哲), had underscored the shortcomings in the existing law.

However, closer cross-strait ties are making it more difficult for counterintelligence agencies to monitor every target and possible recruits, while ambiguous mandates and intelligence turf wars are creating further opportunities for penetration by Chinese intelligence. Ongoing efforts to divorce the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), Taiwan’s premier defence research institute, from the defence ministry — a move that could occur as early as 2012 — could also present a serious security challenge, given the interest of the Chinese intelligence apparatus in the organization behind key technologies such as the Hsiung Feng IIE cruise missile.

My article, published today in Jane’s Intelligence Weekly, continues here (subscription required).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Abdicating sovereignty, one step at a time

From Chiang-era anti-communist propaganda on Green Island to the .tw suffix on tourism Web sites, Chinese sensibilities are being hurt, and Taiwanese are under pressure to rectify the matter, or else risk being marginalized

Despite the touted economic benefits of flourishing Chinese tourism to Taiwan, it is becoming increasingly clear that the dividends are coming at a price — one that, sadly, some seem willing to pay.

With some People’s Republic of China nationals able to travel independently to Taiwan beginning later this month, the Yilan County Business and Tourism Department last week announced it wanted to open a Web site in China and, in doing so, would likely drop the “.tw” suffix to make itself more palatable to Chinese authorities.

A representative from the Yilan County Lodging Association also said that homestays and bed-and-breakfast operators in the county would probably encounter severe difficulty attracting Chinese tourists if they insist on using the “.tw” suffix, an indication that operators and officials may have little compunction in making such a sacrifice in the name of business.

Ostensibly seen as a small compromise on the part of Yilan officials, their willingness to abandon yet another symbol of Taiwan’s sovereignty nevertheless risks engaging the nation further down what could be a very slippery slope. Not only is this flexibility voluntary, it sends a signal to Beijing that a simple nudge or threat will likely suffice when it wants to exact further concessions from Taiwan in the future.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Analysis: Demystifying China’s ‘red line’ on the F-16s

While they should not be taken lightly, threats of retaliation by Beijing over arms sales to Taiwan are often more bluster than a real promise of pain

With pressure mounting on the administration of US President Barack Obama to release the 66 F-16C/D aircraft requested by Taipei, Chinese officials have threatened that such a sale would cross a so-called “red line” that risked damaging relations between Beijing and Washington.

As defense experts and officials endeavor to explain Washington’s reluctance to release the fighter aircraft — touted as necessary to maintain a balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait — many have concluded that crossing Beijing’s red line would come at an unbearable cost to the US. However, beyond Beijing’s threat of once again suspending military exchanges with the US, the consequences of crossing the red line remain largely undefined.

When asked by the Taipei Times to help define what those costs might entail, a number of experts seemed to agree on the following conclusion: Not only would Beijing have limited retaliatory options, but the US could mitigate their impact with relative ease.

Furthermore, if the past 20 years of cross-strait negotiations are any indication, there is no correlation between major US arms sales to Taiwan and a chill in relations between Taipei and Beijing — in fact, major arms packages released in 1992, 2008 and last year were accompanied by diplomatic breakthroughs across the Strait.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Liang’s ‘olive branch’ is (also) a threat

How Beijing defines expansionism, or lack thereof, differs markedly from the norm. We ignore that difference at our own peril

Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday, Chinese Minister of National Defense General Liang Guanglie (梁光烈, pictured above) struck all the right notes when he said that China would not become a military threat and would never seek hegemony or military expansion.

While undoubtedly reassuring, that “solemn pledge” by Beijing to the international community was, as is often the case with such proclamations by Chinese officials, more revealing for what it didn’t say.

It is true that China does not have expansionist or imperial designs on its neighbors in the Western understanding of the term. It does not seek to occupy other countries or overthrow governments whose policies it finds disagreeable, nor does it want to impose its own political system on others. In that regard, Beijing has been consistent in its adherence to the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries and Liang’s comments were a reflection of that policy from the military.

What he did not say, however, is that Beijing’s concept of expansionism differs from the way it is normally understood, and therein lie the seeds of potential future conflict.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

PLA sets up cyber security team

A former Taiwanese NSC official says the fact that the unit is under regional, rather than central, command is a sign that it is not highly sensitive

China has established a cyber security unit to upgrade the Internet security of its military, a Chinese defence spokesman confirmed on 25 May. The PLA’s elite ‘cyber blue team’ comprises about 30 Internet specialists and was deployed under the Guangzhou Military Region in southern China.

My article, published in Jane’s Defence Weekly on May 31, continues here (subscription required).

NTD-AP angry at lack of progress in Chunghwa dispute

The station, known for its critical reportage about the Chinese government, says it is still awaiting answers by the telecoms operator and a government watchdog for the decision not to renew its broadcasting contract

New Tang Dynasty Television Asia-Pacific (NTD-AP) on Monday lamented what it called a lack of progress in an ongoing dispute with Chunghwa Telecom, which on April 11 announced that it would not renew the station’s broadcasting license after it expires in August.

During an interdepartmental meeting on Tuesday last week attended by officials from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), the National Communications Commission (NCC) and representatives from NTD, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said Chunghwa needed to protect Taiwan’s democratic -principles and to continue its satellite contract with NTD-AP.

In remarks seen as promising by the station, Wu said he wanted Chunghwa to give NTD-AP priority on a new satellite that will enter service in August and that if there really was insufficient bandwidth, as Chunghwa says, the company should rent another satellite with the same coverage as the current one and continue servicing NTD-AP.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.