Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned of consequences and damage to Sino-US relations if the principle were challenged.
Tsai Ing-wen’s strategic gambit to raise Taiwan’s international profile via a Trump phone call has continued to play out to the island’s disadvantage. While Washington emphasised that its stance on the “one China” principle had not changed and that Taiwan was a partner and not a bargaining chip, it also noted quite conveniently that it was time for Taiwan to up its military spending, a statement likely to soothe defence contractors after stock prices tumbled in response to a Trump tweet implying US defence spending would be cut.
Taiwan’s military subsequently confirmed that new strategies were being formulated and that once approved, new resources would be injected to implement them. Premier Lin Chuan’s assertion that large increases previously deemed impossible for the 2017 budget may now be up for negotiation. Are there causal links between Trump’s public criticism of the “one China” policy and the US Defence Department’s urging that Taiwan increase its military spending? If so, what would such a development entail?
We should remember that US Senator John McCain, leader of the influential Armed Services Committee, led the largest-ever delegation of senators to visit Tsai in Taiwan in June. It was also the first time the committee chairman had visited the island in 24 years. The visit underscored the importance of arms sales in maintaining Taiwan-US relations, which were part of Taiwan’s bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Experts and policy analysts have argued for years that Taiwan’s defence spending should amount to at least 3 per cent of the country’s GDP in order to maintain a credible deterrence against China’s build-up over the years.
The calculus of Washington-Beijing-Taipei relations following Trump’s victory last month will only strengthen these arguments.
While the TPP may be on life support, (or, as some infer, dead already), arms deals are likely to be the grease on the wheels to further Taiwan’s bid to forge more extensive trade relations with the United States as an alternative.
The consequences of these actions mean that Taiwan is rapidly moving towards pursuing a less ambiguous posture between the United States and mainland China, a stance that will diminish its chances to becoming an important broker for stability. What remains to be seen is what Taiwan will put on its shopping list as part of its new defence strategy and whether hawkish Trump advisers, including those who see confrontation with Beijing as almost inevitable, will approve of them. Advanced weaponry for Taiwan may seem defensible in relation to a more assertive China, but it may in turn spark an escalation in the region that could cause its destablisation.
It is moot whether Tsai’s scheming caught an inexperienced Trump unprepared: What matters is that the door is now wide open for the US military industrial complex to exploit business opportunities involving Taiwan.
Published : December 16, 2016
By : Yuan-Ming Chiao The China Post Asia News Network Taipei