A Division of Labor that can’t work

A US Congressional report says Taiwan’s fighter jets are inadequate to deal with any threat from mainland China, Radio Australia reports, and adds an interview which offers some background from the perspective of Brad Glosserman of the Center for Strategic International Studies.

Taiwan is seeking 66 new US-made F-16 fighter jets, but Washington officials wary of another China backlash have hedged on the request, saying they must evaluate Taiwan’s overall defence needs, writes Pakistan’s Daily Times.

Members of Congress have traditionally been closer to Taiwan than the White House. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act when Washington switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing, and Congress members are frequently more outspoken than presidents. In 1997, then speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich quoted himself (from talks with Chinese officials) while speaking to American reporters in Shanghai:  “I said “We understand that, in principle, you will not renounce the right to use force. We want you to understand: We will defend Taiwan”.

Julian Baum, a former FEER correspondent in Taipei, pointed out in November last year that compared with previous US presidents, the need for cooperation [with China] is vastly greater for Barack Obama. At the same time, it is mainly Taiwan which seems to be a “burning issue” for Beijing when it comes to – political – cooperation with other countries. And Baum pointed out that Taiwan, but South Korea and Thailand as well, feel more palpably than other governments a suspicion and distrust toward Beijing, even as they experience some spillover benefits from one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Also in November, Singapore’s senior minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) told America that it had to “strike a balance” in Asia to balance China’s military and economic might.

But if there are South (East) Asian countries that see such an American role in their own national interest, they will need to cooperate with Washington in striking the balance. Securing it isn’t as lucrative as chumming up to Beijing – especially if everyone else chooses the latter role.

A division of labor of that kind isn’t sustainable.

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