By LCDR Obvious, USN
To Thwart a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan, the US Must Slow Walk Their Request Chit
The Taiwan Relations Act (hereafter “TRA”; Pub.L. 96–8, 93 Stat. 14, enacted April 10, 1979; H.R. 2479) requires that the People’s Republic of China submit a request chit to the United States Congress at least 14 business days prior to an invasion of Taiwan. When the TRA was first drafted in 1979, US military planners believed this was ample time to allow the US to pre-position forces in order to deny, deter, defeat, disrupt, degrade, destroy, distend, or discombobulate PRC forces before they were able to successfully seize Taiwan. Since the PRC began its military modernization in the mid-1990s, Western national security experts have raised the alarm that the 14-business-days-advance notice required is no longer adequate to ensure that the US military has complete and total dominance over PRC forces in the Western Pacific at the start of combat operations.
Two attempts have been made by Congress to extend the 14 business day requirement to 21 and 30 days in 1988 and 2005, respectively, however both of these efforts failed in the Senate. What is less well understood is subclause 16:7 of the TRA which states that “Congress will make every effort to respond to a PRC request for ‘reunification’ with Taiwan promptly upon receipt of ‘The Chit.’” So much hangs on one’s interpretation of “make every effort” and “promptly.” This article will explore ways in which the US can employ a whole-of-government approach to adhere to the spirit of the TRA while still buying valuable time to pre-position US forces in the theater for victory against the PRC.
The most obvious way for the US to delay official Congressional recognition of The Chit is sadly already off the table. In 1979, then-PRC Premier Zhou Enlai cleverly ensured that language requiring a prompt response even if Congress was in recess was added to the final language of the TRA by US Permanent Shadow SECSTATE Henry Kissinger. During Congressional recesses, each ranking member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee is required by the TRA to nominate a lead and alternate Senate page from their offices to remain in Washington, DC, to be on standby to receive a PRC invasion request chit in the event one is generated by Beijing. Senate pages performing this task are provided a per diem allowance for this service amounting to $257 USD.
To successfully slow walk delivery of The Chit to Congress, we must start earlier in the approval chain. The TRA specifies three offices that must receive, review, sign, and forward The Chit in sequential order before it is delivered to Congress. Adding delays at each of these steps can buy the US military critical hours and even days of preparation. The first stop for The Chit is the SHELLBACK Listening Station, a Navy cryptologic station located on a small rock outcropping 57 nautical miles north of Guam. Rising sea levels and significant coastal erosion following the opening of a Subway Restaurant on the outcropping in 2003 have threatened the operation of SHELLBACK Station, however, at great expense to the taxpayers it remains fully operational today and is manned by one Navy Warrant Officer, two Navy Senior Chiefs, one Navy Chief and one Petty Officer First Class.
SHELLBACK’s operations are run out of a single Quonset Hut seized from the Japanese in 1943. Other than the Subway and a small collection of radar towers, this is the only facility on the outcropping. SHELLBACK was built for a single purpose – to ensure the United States lived up to its commitments under the TRA by rapidly processing any PRC invasion request chits they received. Having never received a chit, SHELLBACK is currently rated as one of the most efficient units in the INDOPACOM theater of operations. Failure to immediately process The Chit would threaten SHELLBACK’s efficiency rating to the point where they might fail to be awarded INDOPACOM’s “Battle E” commendation for the first time since 1981.
If the United States receives indications and warnings that the PRC is about to formally request permission to invade Taiwan, the US Navy should immediately select the Petty Officer First Class stationed at SHELLBACK for promotion to Chief Petty Officer. This will kick off a 6-to-20 week Chief Induction Season, involving the entire SHELLBACK command. A study by the Rand Corporation in 2017 indicated that interjecting a Chief Induction Process into an otherwise high- functioning command could reduce operational efficiency by over 85%. For our purposes, assume The Chit routing process — which under normal circumstances should take an hour — could be delayed by as many as three days. This might not seem like a lot but three days would give the US government ample time to evacuate all US citizens from Taiwan, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands and the US West Coast in preparation for a conflict with the PRC.
After SHELLBACK, The Chit is routed to the INDOPACOM PRC Relations Office in Mililani Mauka, a suburb of Honolulu. The PRC Relations Office (PRC-RO, pronounced “prick-ro”) is purposely-designed to facilitate the transfer of any PRC invasion request chits from Guam to the State Department in Washington, DC. Since its creation in 1979, PRC- RO has been manned by a single government civilian, Mr. Daniel Peterson. The language in the TRA establishing PRC-RO and hiring Mr. Peterson was specifically requested by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), Mr. Peterson having previously served on Senator Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign. After 36 years of flawless government service, Mr. Peterson retired in 2015 and went on to found Eagle-Dragon Communication Associates, a private company which was awarded the exclusive contract to operate PRC-RO in the 2015 NDAA.
Mr. Peterson (“just call me ‘Dan’”) maintains the same working hours as a civilian contractor as he did while in government service. However, Mr Peterson has requested and received permission from INDOPACOM N15 to leave a little early on Fridays so he can beat the traffic on the H-1 and get to his great granddaughter’s lacrosse game on time. If SHELLBACK Station can hold release of the Chit until 1400 Friday Honolulu time, Mr. Peterson will have already departed for the weekend, buying the US government two and a half days to create and release the 2019 NDAA-mandated TikTok videos explaining to Zoomers what a fallout shelter is.
After The Chit is released from PRC-RO, it travels to the US State Department. The author is a career US military officer, is unaware how the State Department works and frankly couldn’t be bothered to learn for the sake of this article. He assumes that The Chit will be processed like a passport application, slowly but within a realistic amount of time. Moving on…
Once released from the State Department, The Chit is driven to Congress by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in a white 1974 Plymouth Fury Sport Suburban station wagon. The requirement to use this particular automobile is specified in the TRA language and is believed to have been added by then-Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) in an effort to support the Detroit auto industry. The State Department is required to keep two well-maintained white Suburbans wagons on site in perpetuity for this purpose, costing the taxpayer approximately $26,000 per annum in maintenance.
Following the steps outlined above may add almost a week of processing time before Congress receives The Chit, the point when the formal 14 business day approval process specified in the TRA begins. Given the pace and scale of the PRC’s preparation for a conflict with Taiwan, including the construction of hundreds of new warships, bomber aircraft, spy satellites, and land-based conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles, this week of preparation may mean the difference between victory or defeat for the US in the Pacific. We must take every reasonable, legal step to slow walk the processing of this required form before it is too late. Fortunately, this plays into a crucial U.S. asymmetric advantage. If there is one thing the whole of the US government excels at, it is processing routine paperwork incredibly slowly.
LCDR Obvious is a serving US Navy officer in the Indo-Pacific region. He has read the recent crop of articles promising One Weird Trick to deter China from invading Taiwan with a combination of mirth, skepticism, and alarm.
Featured Image: Chief Logistics Specialist Daniel Hamar from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) verifies inventory paperwork with Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group (NAVELSG) Logistics Specialist Second Class Darius Threat from Columbus, Ohio during a Supply Management Inspection (SMI). (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Edward Kessler/Released)