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Taiwan Presses Forward

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Taiwan Presses Forward

The Diplomat speaks with Taiwan ambassador to the United States about democracy and international isolation.

The Diplomat is running a series of interviews with Washington DC-based ambassadors on defense, diplomacy, and trade in the Asia-Pacific region. In the fifth in the series, conducted by Washington correspondent Eddie Walsh, Ambassador Jason C. Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) tackles a number of challenging issues, including how the island's exclusion from international security organizations affects regional security,  whether Taiwan is complying with international nonproliferation efforts, and what preconditions are required to move forward on a possible peace plan with the People’s Republic of China.

How did the collapse of the Six-Party Talks (SPT) affect Taiwanese national security interests? Did Taiwan hope for the SPT to evolve into a more robust security initiative?

The failure of the Six-Party Talks, which were intended to facilitate North Korea's de-nuclearization, could result in rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and may also result in the escalation of the arms race among the parties concerned, therefore endangering peace and stability in Northeast Asia. Among the Six-Party Talk negotiators, mainland China, Japan, the United States and South Korea are Taiwan's first-, second-, third- and fifth-largest trading partners, respectively. Obviously, peace and stability in Northeast Asia are tremendously important to our national security interests, as well. My government supports the resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue via diplomatic channels and believes that the countries in this region should strengthen the regional security dialogue. However, any regional security mechanism should not exclude Taiwan and democratic countries in the region should play the leading roles within this mechanism.

How does the inability for Taiwan to directly participate in the regional security architecture of Northeast Asia affect long-term Taiwanese national interests?

Mainland China, Japan and South Korea are Taiwan's first-, second- and fifth-largest trading partners, respectively. Therefore, the tense situation resulting from North Korea's nuclear threat and the territorial disputes in Northeast Asia that endanger peace and stability in that area will have a great impact on the Republic of China (Taiwan). Taiwan is located in the center of the first island chain extending from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia, and is in a pivotal location for air and sea transportation. Any regional security mechanism in Northeast Asia that excludes Taiwan cannot function well and may negatively influence regional stability.

How has the emergence of non-traditional security issues (including cyber security) as legitimate national security concerns impacted Taiwanese national interests and its bilateral and multilateral relations in the region?

Taiwan is the 16th-largest trading country and the 18th-largest economy in the world. Every year 1.5 million flights pass through the Taipei Flight Information Region, carrying over 40 million passengers. Taiwan is, therefore, intensively interacting with the international community in terms of flow of capital, people, commodities and information. For these reasons, Taiwan deems all non-traditional security issues, including cyber-security, terrorism, human and drug trafficking, as very important, and hopes to cooperate with the international community on meeting the challenges posed by these issues. However, because Taiwan is not a UN member, many countries are constrained by the “mainland China factor” and cannot strengthen inter-governmental cooperation with Taiwan, impeding Taiwan's participation in international cooperation and its ability to contribute. This situation has a negative impact on Taiwan, on other countries, on the region and on the world as a whole.

Would Taiwan welcome the U.S. strengthening the trilateral security partnership with South Korea and Japan in support of peace and stability in East Asia?

Taiwan welcomes the strengthening of bi-lateral or multi-lateral alliances between the United States and East Asian democracies. In addition, we hope that the United States will take the lead in pushing forward on various tri-lateral security mechanism dialogues in the form of “US-Taiwan+1” with either track one or track two format. On October 17 of this year, think tanks from the United States and Taiwan jointly held a seminar on the Taiwan-US-Japan security dialogue, in which legislators and scholars from the United States, Japan and Taiwan were invited to participate. Participants from the United States included members of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Reed (R-NY) and Peter Roskam (R-IL); participants from Japan included Japanese Senators Kenzo Fujisue and Yoichi Masuzoe. Based on this successful event, my country will continue to expand this kind of “Taiwan-US+1” trilateral dialogue in the future.

Given the political challenges in the U.S. and Europe of transferring high-end weapons systems to Taiwan, are there regional and domestic alternatives being seriously considered by Taiwan for the design and development of future combat systems, including a next generation fighter?

With regard to upgrading our national defense capability, Taiwan has always emphasized both foreign procurement and domestic research and development of weaponry. Taiwan's arms procurements are based on three principles: first, that the arms fit our defense needs; second, that the arms are items that we cannot produce domestically; and third, that the arms are needed to replace obsolete equipment. We appreciate the Obama Administration's notification to Congress on September 21 this year of a deal of retrofitting Taiwan's current F-16 A/B fighters – but we still hope that the United States will sell Taiwan F-16C/D fighters in order to replace Taiwan's obsolete F-5 jets.

If economic growth is key to Taiwan's ability to maintain the gap in the existing military balance of power, how can the U.S. and its allies in Asia-Pacific be confident that Taiwanese business interests would not be allowed to engage in high-value trade that would contradict Western security interests?

As early as 1995, Taiwan began to implement Strategic High-Tech Commodities (SHTC) Controls and furthermore, in 2006, implemented the Sensitive Commodities List to North Korea and Iran. Based on these policies, commodities included on the control lists can be exported only after an export license is obtained. In addition, Taiwan has been working closely with the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and Israel on controlling exports of strategic high-tech commodities and exchanging relevant information. Even though Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations (UN), it has been actively cooperating with the UN in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in a “Catch-all Control” manner. My government's policy of supporting anti-proliferation is adamant and clear. In addition to cooperation with the United States on SHTC export control, we also work closely with the United States on the Proliferation Security Initiative, Container Security Initiative and Megaports Initiative, as advocated by the United States. Among those initiatives, Taiwan's execution of the “Megaports Initiative” has been affirmed by the United States as a regional model. Because of the obstacle posed by international political factors, Taiwan is not a member of any multi-lateral arms control convention or non-proliferation regimes. This situation is unfavorable for us to participate in international cooperation on non-proliferation and therefore unfavorable to the international community's efforts in this respect. Therefore, we have been hoping that we can be included into these kinds of multi-lateral conventions and regimes.

The “China Arms Control and Disarmament Association” recently claimed that Taiwan is a black hole for non-proliferation cooperation, citing a number of high impact proliferation activities by Taiwanese firms. What is your reaction to these claims and how strong of a partner is Taiwan in enforcing non-proliferation?

With respect to the Strategic High-Tech Commodity (SHTC) export controls, Taiwan has established cooperative channels and mechanisms with many countries. Besides the previously mentioned preventative measures, our government has been actively engaged in investigations and handling of any possible violation of export controls whenever cases of this kind appear. However, for some alleged cases involving commodities not on the export control list or involving countries not on the list of export bans or on the list of SHTC observation, and thus did not violate the SHTC control, we nonetheless added the companies concerned to the SHTC observation list, in accordance with the UN non-proliferation measures. This will limit these companies' business deals with particular foreign firms and effectively preventing them from circumventing controls.

There has been a great deal of media coverage on a possible peace plan with the Peoples Republic of China. Could you briefly describe the preconditions that would need to exist for your government to commence such negotiations? Given the PRC's recent assertiveness in the South and East China Seas, do you feel that the Taiwanese public would support such a plan?

President Ma Ying-jeou held a press conference on the morning of October 20 at the Presidential Office to reiterate that the government has no time-line for entering into a cross-strait peace agreement, and would only do so where the following three preconditions were met: such an agreement would have to be necessary to the ROC, it would have to be supported by the public, the entire process would have to be subject to oversight by the national legislature. The president further explained that “supported by the public” means support as indicated in public opinion polls, a resolution of the national legislature, or a referendum. Should a referendum fail to pass, a peace agreement would not be sought.

According to an opinion poll on the issue of a cross-strait peace agreement, published by the United Daily News in Taipei on October 25, 2011, 41% of respondents support such an agreement, 29% are against it and 29% have no opinion – among these respondents, 67% believe that any such peace agreement should be decided by a referendum and only 17% do not believe a referendum is necessary. According to another, similar survey, conducted by the China Times in Taipei, nearly 60% of respondents support such a peace agreement and believe it would be beneficial to the stability of cross-Strait exchanges and the prevention of war.

How important is the continued diplomatic recognition of Taiwan by at least some subset of U.N. Members to your country's strategic goals and objectives?

According to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, for a state to become an international “legal person,” it must have a definite population, clearly defined territory, a government and the capacity to deal with other states. The Republic of China (ROC) has been an independent, sovereign state since 1912. After 1949, the ROC has continued to exercise effective jurisdiction over certain territories, though much smaller, and the ROC government continues to exist on Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and represents 23 million people with formal diplomatic ties to 23 sovereign states. Therefore, in terms of the ROC's qualification as an international legal person, diplomatic ties with other countries are crucial. The ROC's long-time aid to its diplomatic allies sufficiently shows its contribution to the international community, which in turn has improved Taiwan's international image significantly. As President Ma Ying-jeou said on May 12 this year at a Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) video-conference, enhancing Taiwan's contributions to international development is one of Taiwan's “three lines of defense,” along with institutionalizing the cross-Strait rapprochement and aligning Taiwan defense with diplomacy.

Does Taiwan currently possess the diplomatic and military capabilities that it needs to defend its national interests should the PRC launch a military campaign to recapture Taiwan now or in the foreseeable future?

As Taiwan is a free democracy and one of the most important economies in the world, thus the United States, Japan, Australia, Southeast Asian countries and even the European Union all expect that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the development of Taiwan's liberal democracy and market economy will be maintained. This expectation constitutes an international deterrence that prevents mainland China from using force against Taiwan. The U.S. Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 stipulates that it is the policy of the United States “to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”

In his joint press conferences with President Hu Jintao both in 2009 and 2011, President Barack Obama publicly reiterated the United States' commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. As peace must be backed by actual strength, our military strategic focus is to maintain “a resolute defense and a credible deterrence.” Based on this strategic concept, we are working to upgrade the capabilities of our joint-force operations, in order to achieve the goal of deterring and preventing war. In this way, we must also redouble our efforts to acquire more advanced weaponry and to develop asymmetrical combat capabilities, to make our deterrence more credible. For these reasons, we still have to make effort to acquire more weaponry from the United States and to improve our self-defense capability.