Tuesday, October 12, 2004

First Try ...

I created this blog on May 5, 2002. At the time I made a single silly post, to see if the template worked and what it might look like. Then I promptly lost interest and forgot. I've since discovered that my blog embryo wasn't dead, merely suspended in a state of arrested development. I've been accused by some friends of having been lost in the blogosphere, and that is, to some extent, true. But the upshot of such ribbings is friendly encouragement to start a blog, so here goes. I wrote this piece a week ago, which I know will go unpublished, so I thought I would post it here:

The Scorpion and the Frog

On October 6, US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless sent ripples through Taiwan’s political community by warning that if Taiwan did not pass its NT$618.8 (US$18.2 billion) defense budget, which has been languishing in the Legislative Yuan for several years, "… it will have repercussions for the United States [and] will have repercussions for Taiwan’s friends."

While Lawless didn’t elaborate any further, he was sending a clear signal—not so much to President Chen Shui-bian, who has campaigned for passage of the budget for well over four years—to Taiwan’s dilatory legislature, which has stymied the legislation at every opportunity since Chen’s first inauguration.

The opposition KMT and PFP parties’ primary objection to the defense budget is that Taiwan simply cannot afford to buy the weapons. The pan-blue alliance maintains that the funds would be better put to use if they were reinvested in the economy or other domestic concerns. In a deft response, Chen pointed out that if the legislation passes, Taiwan will be paying only 2.8 percent of the nation’s GDP for defense expenditures, which is less than what Singapore, South Korea or the US spend annually, thereby implying that as a percentage of GDP, Taiwan would be investing more heavily in its domestic affairs than its neighbors and most-valued ally.

It is true that budget squabbles and party rivalry are an integral part of any functioning democracy, but the Legislative Yuan and its pan-blue majority have lost sight of the larger picture, a picture in which China refuses to renounce the use of force, continues to add to its stockpile of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and seeks to interfere at every turn when Taiwan attempts to become a member of the international community.

But the true oversight here—hence Lawless’ remark—is Taiwan’s long-held assumption that the US will come to its aid in the event of a conflict across the Strait. It is no secret that US troops, in light of the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, are stretched almost to the breaking point. In the US there are persistent rumors of an upcoming draft, and most of those who are now serving in Iraq have been there far longer than they had anticipated.

At this juncture, any administration in Washington D.C. might jib at the prospect of having to mobilize a large number of troops in the event of a war in the Pacific. This is not to say that the US would relinquish its commitment to Taiwan, rather Lawless is simply, and none too subtly, suggesting that perhaps Taiwan should show as great an interest in protecting itself as the US does.

Those, like some in the blue camp, who continue to look to China hoping that Beijing will soon temper its appetite for forced “reunification,” would do well to remember parable of the scorpion and the frog. The frog, after being stung by the scorpion despite assurances to the contrary, asks the scorpion why, when it knew that its action would mean the death of both animals, did it carry on. The scorpion replies that he is a scorpion and that is simply what scorpions do.

If it comes to a point where China clearly has the upper hand militarily, and Taiwan continues to be marginalized from the international community, Taiwan will have few bargaining chips with which to stem a “reunification” juggernaut. With this in mind, it is clear that Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan must approve the defense budget within the next year, for it is not merely the right of a sovereign nation to arm itself against an avowed aggressor, it is both a moral and fundamental responsibility of the government to protect its citizenry from a bellicose neighbor.

... I understand that there are nuances to this argument that have been left out, but one can only say so much when allotted 600 words. One thing I neglected to mention was that the KMT and PFP have also argued that it would simply be impossible for Taiwan to outlast or outspend China in an arms race. There are also legitimate criticisms that the US only allows Taiwan to buy what Washington wants it to buy, which is for the most part second rate equipment at department store prices. Yet there is something else that I have yet to see touched upon, and that is an unspoken belief, perhaps on the part of the Pentagon or the US State Department that the inflated prices are in fact a silent quid-pro-quo arrangement whereby the US deflects some of its costs for the 1996 7th Fleet interference run when China was testing missiles in the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan was holding a presidential election.

David Momphard of the Taipei Times had a nice overview of the US' changing relationship with Taiwan, which touched on some of these issues in Sunday's paper.

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