January 27th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Loy Yang just latest critical asset to go offshore

EDITORIAL Behind the power shift in the Middle East

CANBERRA OBSERVED Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

GENDER POLITICS Family Court washes hands of gender-dysphoric kids

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Western sanctions have forced Russia to upskill

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

ENVIRONMENT Senate committee puts marine life before people

SEXUAL ABUSE Royal commission report ignores cause of abuse

HIGHER EDUCATION Critical thinking and the culture of skepticism

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS U.S. urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

PHILOSOPHY A reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

MUSIC Group theory: A good band is greater than its parts

CINEMA Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn

BOOK REVIEW 'Populism' and the new social divide

BOOK REVIEW Poems outshine dross of inept introduction



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urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, January 27, 2018

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced during her recent trip to Taiwan’s Pacific Ocean allies that the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) would increase defence spending by 2 per cent annually. The United States recently expressed concerns that a military imbalance was developing in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan media reported U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty as saying.

Taiwan and the U.S. are de-facto allies, even though they no longer have official diplomatic ties. Taipei and Washington have far more in common than do Beijing and Washington, despite the huge trade volumes between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). For one thing, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy while the PRC under President Xi Jinping is becoming increasingly repressive.

The U.S. values Taiwan as an ally in the unstable Southeast Asian strategic environment. It could be argued that the U.S. aim in the Taiwan Strait is “strategic balance” but the people of Taiwan occupy a very important piece of real estate, which the U.S. would not want to see in the hands of a hostile power.

President Tsai’s announcement in October that the Government would increase defence spending by 2 per cent annually would be coming off a low base. Taiwan’s defence budget is 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), around the same proportion of GDP that Australia spends on defence. Taiwan could also acquire additional defence hardware above the budget if “significant purchase cases” were necessary, President Tsai said.

President Tsai told Ambassador Moriarty that Taiwan would develop a comprehensive plan in accordance with strategic needs, short-term needs, and long-term plans, to create defence forces on the island that would have “reliable combat effectiveness”, according to Reuters.

While President Tsai is head of the Government, she cannot dictate policy. The annual budget must be approved by the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s unicameral parliament. President Tsai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has a majority in the Legislative Yuan for the first time ever, but this is no guarantee that the defence budget will pass. For one thing, the opposition “pan blue” legislators could “storm the podium” to prevent the legislation being passed. DPP legislators could decide that there is some pet project more deserving of government money than defence.

As regards allocating money for “significant purchase cases”, this process has been known to drag on for years.

“Unprecedentedly” friendly relations with U.S.

The United States is obligated under the Taiwan Relations Act 1979 (TRA) to supply weapons to allow Taiwan to defend itself. President Tsai recently officially described relations between the U.S. and Taiwan as “unprecedentedly friendly”, no doubt recalling the person-to-person telephone conversation between herself and the newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump.

Taiwan is pressing the U.S. to supply more advanced weaponry, in particular fighter aircraft to replace its ageing General Dynamics F-16s and Mirage 2000s built by Dassault of France. Taiwan took delivery in November of 12 sophisticated Lockheed P-3C anti-submarine aircraft, which will substantially upgrade Taiwan’s anti-submarine warfare capability.

China suspects President Tsai’s DPP of having a “Taiwan independence” agenda. Taiwan politics is divided into the “pan-blue” faction, led by the Kuomintang (KMT), which aims for reunification with mainland China at some time in the distant future, and the “pan-green” faction, which seeks to distance Taiwan from the PRC, with the eventual aim of independence.

Under President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan and China had reached a modus vivendi using the “1992 consensus”, where each side agreed that there was one China; with each side having its own interpretation of what that meant.

Since the election of President Tsai, relations between China and Taiwan have gone into deep freeze. Apart from the usual sabre rattling, China has been picking off the ROC’s few remaining official diplomatic allies.

The number of tourists from the PRC visiting Taiwan has fallen dramatically, particularly in central and southern Taiwan, whence the DPP gains much of its support. China will not agree to a “two China” or “one China, one Taiwan” solution; while Taiwan will not agree to Taiwan being a Special Administrative Region (SAR), similar to Hong Kong, or to being a local government under Chinese control.

Taiwan recently announced that it would build eight indigenously designed and constructed submarines. Starting from scratch, the boats are likely to be in the water before Australia, with French assistance, has launched its first boat. U.S. companies such as Electric Boat, of Groton, Connecticut (a division of General Dynamics), could build the submarines but, due to domestic considerations has been deterred from doing so.

Taiwan currently has four submarines – two modern Dutch-built boats and two U.S. boats dating from World War II, the world’s oldest submarines in active service.

The PRC has never renounced the use of force to reunify Taiwan with the “motherland”. As time goes by, more people in Taiwan – especially younger people – identify themselves as “Taiwanese” rather than as “Chinese”, though this is more a matter of politics rather than ethnicity.

Taiwan’s fractious politics mean that not even the President can get her own way all of the time.

While the people of Taiwan are culturally Chinese, the longer they are separated from China the less likely they are to accept Beijing’s diktat. If the people of Free China wish to remain free, they will have to put more effort into defending themselves. The U.S. can’t be everywhere all of the time.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm