Tag Archives: Taiwan

Deep Accommodation: The Best Option for Preventing War in the Taiwan Strait

Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Eric Gomez

History has shown that emerging great powers and established or declining great powers are likely to fight major wars in order to determine the balance of power in the international system. There is considerable fear that the U.S. and China are heading towards great power conflict. As Christopher Layne argues, there are “several important — and unsettling — parallels between the Anglo-Germany relationship during the run-up to 1914 and the unfolding Sino-American relationship.” The headline-grabbing dispute in the South China Sea offers an excellent example of one of the several flashpoints that could spark a larger conflict between the U.S. and China. But the probability of great power conflict between the U.S. and China can be reduced if the two states can find ways to better manage interactions in flashpoint areas.

The oldest flashpoint, and the area most important for Chinese domestic politics, is the Taiwan Strait. In 1972, the Shanghai Communique stated that the so-called Taiwan question was the most important issue blocking the normalization of relations between the U.S. and China. This question has yet to be solved, mostly because Taiwan has been able to deter attack through a strong indigenous defense capability backed up by American commitment.

Military Balance in the Taiwan Strait, Forbes.
Military Balance in the Taiwan Strait, Forbes.

The status quo in the Taiwan Strait will be unsustainable as China continues to improve its military capabilities and adopt more aggressive military strategies. If the U.S. wants to avert a war with China in the Taiwan Strait, it must start looking for an alternative to the status quo. Taiwan’s strategy of economic accommodation with China under the Ma Ying-jeou administration has brought about benefits. The U.S. should encourage Taiwan to deepen its military and political accommodation with China. This would be a difficult pill for Taiwan to swallow, but it could offer the most sustainable deterrent to armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

For years, Taiwan’s de facto independence from China has relied on a qualitatively superior, defense-focused military that could prevent the landing of a large Chinese force on the island. The growing power of the Chinese military, especially its naval and missile forces, has begun eroding this qualitative advantage. Indeed, some observers have already concluded that “the days when [Taiwan] forces had a quantitative and qualitative advantage over [China] are over.” Taiwan still possesses a formidable military and could inflict high costs on an attacking Chinese force, but ultimately American intervention would likely be necessary to save Taiwan from a determined Chinese attack.

Military intervention by the U.S. on the behalf of Taiwan would be met with formidable Chinese resistance. China’s anti-access/area denial strategy complicates the U.S.’s ability to project power in the Taiwan Strait.  China’s latest maritime strategy document, released in May of this year, states that China’s navy will start shifting its focus further offshore to include open seas protection missions. Such a shift implies an aspirational capability to keep intervening American forces away from Taiwan. American political leaders have not given up on Taiwan, and the 2015 U.S. National Military Strategy places a premium on reassuring allies of America’s commitments. However, the fact that China’s improving military capabilities will make an American military intervention on behalf of Taiwan more and more costly must not be ignored.

Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping, Xinhua News Photo.
Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping, Xinhua News Photo.

The best option for preventing a war in the Taiwan Strait is deepening the strategy of accommodation that Beijing and Taipei have already started. According to Baohui  Zhang, accommodation “relies on expanding common interests, institutionalizing dialogues, promoting security confidence-building and offering assurances to establish mutual trust.” The Ma Ying-jeou administration in Taiwan has tried to use accommodation as a way to lock in the status quo and avoid conflict, but their efforts have been met with more and more popular backlash in Taiwan. China’s military strategy document does acknowledge that “cross-Taiwan Straits relations have sustained a sound momentum of peaceful development, but the root cause of instability has not yet been removed.”

If Taiwan is serious about accommodation as a means of deterring military conflict, then it should cease purchasing military equipment from the U.S. Stopping the arms purchases would send a clear message to Beijing that Taiwan is interested in deeper accommodation. A halt in arms sales would also benefit U.S.-Chinese relations by removing a “major stumbling block for developing bilateral military-to-military ties.” This is certainly a very controversial proposal, and would likely be very difficult to sell to the Taiwanese people, but as I’ve already explained the status quo is becoming more and more untenable.

Getty Images
Getty Images

There are two important things to keep in mind about this proposal which mitigate fears that this is some kind of appeasement to China. First, halting U.S. arms sales does not mean that Taiwan’s self-defense forces would cease to exist. China may be gaining ground on Taiwan militarily, but the pain that Taiwan could inflict on an attacking force is still high. China may be able to defeat Taiwan in a conflict, but the losses its military would take to seize the island would significantly hamper its ability to use its military while it recovers from attacking Taiwan.

Second, there is an easily identifiable off-ramp that can be used by Taiwan if the policy is not successful. Stopping arms purchases is meant to be a way of testing the water. If the Chinese respond positively to the decision by offering greater military cooperation with Taiwan or some form of political concessions then Beijing signals its commitment to the accommodation process. On the other hand, if the Chinese refuse to follow through and meet Taiwan halfway then Beijing signals that it is not actually committed to accommodation. Taiwan would then resume purchasing American weapons with the knowledge that it must find some other way to prevent conflict.

Accommodation by giving up American arms sales is a tough pill for Taiwan to swallow, but it simply does not have many other viable alternatives to preventing conflict. Taiwan could pursue acquiring nuclear weapons, but this would be met by American opposition and would likely trigger a pre-emptive attack by China if the weapons program were discovered. Taiwan could try to avert conflict by increasing military spending to forestall, but this would be difficult to sustain so long as China’s economy and military spending is also growing. Analysts at CSBA have argued for deterrence through protraction, which advocates employing asymmetric guerrilla-style tactics to prevent China from achieving air and sea dominance. This has the highest likelihood of success of the three alternatives mentioned in this paragraph, but it still relies on intervention by outside powers to ultimately save the day.

Taiwan’s military deterrent will not be able to prevent a Chinese attempt to change the status quo by force for much longer. Any conflict in the Taiwan Strait would likely involve a commitment of U.S. forces and could lead to a major war between the U.S. and China. Accommodation could be the best worst option that Taiwan, and the U.S., has for preventing a war with China. Announcing an end to American weapons purchases could bring Taiwan progress on negotiations with China if successful while still providing off-ramps that Taiwan could take if unsuccessful. I admit, the idea of accommodation does have its flaws, and more work needs to be done to flesh out this idea. I hope that this idea of deep accommodation will add to the discussion about the management of the Taiwan Strait issue. The status quo won’t last forever, and a vigorous debate will be needed to arrive at the best possible solution. 

Eric Gomez is an independent analyst and recent Master’s graduate of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. He is working to develop expertise in regional security issues and U.S. military strategy in East Asia, with a focus on China. He can be reached at gomez.wellesreport@gmail.com.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.
Select a Donation Option (USD)

Enter Donation Amount (USD)

Reviewing Charles Glasers’ “China-U.S. Grand Bargain”

Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Peter Marino

In May of this year, the PLA released its most expansive defense White Paper ever. Having now firmly left in the past the original missions of the PLA simply to defend the Chinese mainland, the paper imagines a solidly regional, and even global, role for its armed forces to protect Chinese vital interests in economics and politics. This has understandably put additional pressure on US and Western defense planners to review their own strategic postures towards China and reassess how they intend to position themselves against it, as the post-First Cold War international architecture breaks down and a Second Cold War seems to be coming into focus. Squarely in the middle of any reassessment of U.S. strategic posture towards China would undoubtedly be Taiwan policy. Should the US hold to its commitments under the 1979 Taiwan Relations act? Should it strengthen these commitments? Or should it abandon them altogether? China specialists across the spectrum are weighing in. Today, I take a moment to review one such proposal, by Professor Charles Glaser of the Elliott School.1

[1] Charles L. Glaser. “A U.S.-China Grand Bargain? The Hard Choice between Military Competition and Accommodation.” International Relations 39, No. 4, Spring 2015, 49-90.

Peter Marino holds an MSc in Global Politics from The London School of Economics and is a graduate of Norwich University. He lived in Shanghai from 2003 to 2008 and served as head of China development for London-based Aurigon, Ltd. He founded and sold Quaternion, a political risk startup, and is currently establishing a new Think Tank for International Affairs aimed at promoting engagement with the “Millennial Generation.” He also produces Globalogues, a video blog with commentary on global politics and economics. The views expressed in this article are his own.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.
Select a Donation Option (USD)

Enter Donation Amount (USD)

From Expediency to the Strategic Chinese Dream?

Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week Week by Sherman Xiaogang Lai

China’s Military Strategy, the white paper released by the Chinese Ministry of Defense on 26 May 2015, is a milestone document in the People’s Republic of China’s military history. It marks China’s confidence in its ability to control the potentially explosive issue of Taiwan and its territorial disputes with its neighbors in the East and South China Seas and signals the beginning of China’s advance into overseas markets, where China’s interests have been rapidly expanding since Deng Xiaoping initiated his market-oriented reform by terminating Mao Zedong’s regime of isolation, “self-reliance, and arduous struggle.” China’s Military Strategy states that “the basic point for PMS [preparation for military struggle] will be placed on winning informationized local wars, highlighting maritime military struggle and maritime PMS.” It asserts that the “traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” For the first time in its history, the mission of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN) is defined as jinhai fangyu, yuanhai huwei (“offshore waters defense and open seas protection”), and the PLAN’s focus is on the transition from the former to the latter.

news_chan_flagsThis new military strategy traces its origin to the Military Strategy Guideline of the New Era (MSGNE) of 1993. Although the text of the MSGNE has not been made public, its objective is known to be deterrence of Taiwan from de jure independence. The current strategy is thus significantly different from the MSGNE because of the former’s emphasis on the navy’s role in protecting sea lines of communication (SLOC), which were used by Admiral/General Liu Huaqing, China’s Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, to promote the PLAN as early as 1975, when Mao was alive. That Liu did not engage in the process of the MSGNE’s formation and in fact kept himself at a safe distance from it deserves attention. This reveals China’s strategic dilemma created by Taiwan’s inclination toward de jure independence and China’s growing dependence on international trade. The former demanded that the PLA develop an effective fighting capacity to deter Taiwan and convince the United States that it would pay a price if it did not help China in this effort. The latter required that the PLAN assume a new mission to protect China’s growing overseas interests. The hope was that this dilemma would be solved when China’s rapid economic growth eliminated the huge gap in living standards across the Taiwan Strait, bringing the two sides together. However, despite China’s admirable economic growth, Taiwan shows no sign of surrender. In addition, China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours in the East and South China Seas have escalated. The PLAN’s strategic dilemma thus remains intact. Will China’s tremendously increased economic and military strength help the PLA solve this problem and guide China onto the track toward the “Chinese Dream?” Before answering this question, let us go back to the fall of 1992, when the MSGNE was conceived.

The Economist SCS Claims
South China Sea Claims, The Economist.

By the spring of 1991, the PLAN leaders, including Admiral/General Liu, faced an unprecedented embarrassment: in addition to it being well known that the PLA was armed with obsolete weapons, the Allies’ triumph in the Gulf War demonstrated that the PLA’s operation doctrine was outdated. Making the situation worse was the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union. China, which had been benefiting tremendously from the West-East rivalry, had to face pressure from the United States, Taiwan’s patron, alone. As the island was in the process of rapid democratization and those residents who had fled to the island from the Mainland in 1949 were losing their dominance in politics, Taiwan began to pursue de jure independence and emerged as the fatal threat to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communists’ rule over Mainland China. Having recognized the reality of the changed world, Admiral/General Liu, one of the members of the PLA’s commanding agency, the Central Military Commission (CMC), and other PLA strategy planners began to develop a new strategy. Liu’s efforts coincided with Jiang Zemin’s endeavour to control the PLA. Jiang was a protégé of one of Deng’s rivals and managed to obtain Deng’s trust in the fall of 1992. As Jiang did not serve in the PLA, Deng appointed General Zhang Zhen, the PLA’s most senior officer in active duty, to help Jiang, who then asked Zhang to develop a new military strategy. Zhang tasked General Zhang Wannian, the recently appointed Chief of General Staff, with completing this job. Both generals’ entire careers were devoted to the PLA, and the final fruit of their efforts was the MSGNE approved in 1993.

The MSGNE departed fundamentally from the PLA’s strategic tradition at the time, which was based on ground forces armed with outdated weapons, in two aspects. The first was its shift from continental defence to the immediate challenges off China’s coast: deterring Taiwan’s de jure independence and managing the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The second was prioritizing development of a few critical weapon systems, the so-called shashoujian, in contrast to the previous emphasis on ideological indoctrination. It is interesting that the MSGNE has not been officially defined and explained, despite it being a watershed strategy in the PLA’s history. Equally interesting is the fact that Admiral/General Liu was away from Beijing when the Generals Zhang were preoccupied there developing this maritime-oriented military strategy. The authors of his official biography cautiously implied that Liu had nothing to do with the creation of the MSGNE.

China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles wheeled through a military parade. Internet photo.

Twenty years after the MSGNE was implemented, a PLAN consisting of two very different fleets emerged. The first consists of large surface warships and auxiliary vessels capable of operating as far as the Mediterranean Sea. The second is an anti-access fleet of submarines, fast missile craft, and destroyers supported by the PLAN’s land-based aircraft, the PLA Air Force, and the strategic striking force of the Second Artillery. In 2013, the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21, with a range of 3,000 km, was reported to be operational. The deployment of the DF-21 means that US fleets, especially its aircraft carriers, are exposed to critical attacks by China’s conventional missiles when they are far
from China’s territorial waters. The DF-21 is a part of the PLA’s shashoujian and alters the naval game in the Pacific. Although it offers Chinese leaders more options in weapon selection, it makes a military solution more tempting and creates a set of challenges to both Chinese and American decision-makers if a cross-Strait conflict breaks out. The Chinese leaders will be able to use the DF-21 against approaching US fleets instead of their nuclear weapons. US leaders will have to make the decision either to risk US aircraft carriers being lost to the DF-21 in international waters and thus being forced into a large-scale war against China or to acknowledge China’s hegemony over the Western Pacific.

Neither Beijing nor Washington wants to make these difficult decisions. But China, the weaker side of this cross-Pacific rivalry, gains much more than it loses from the deployment of DF-21, and this gives it confidence. The PLAN’s new “offshore waters defense and open seas protection” mission is a reflection of this new confidence among the Chinese national and naval leaders over their recent boost in naval strength. This new mission could be regarded as China’s tremendous contribution to world peace if it were irrelevant to the DF-21 and the tension in the South and East China Seas. The intermediate DF-21 is a weapon system of expediency to compensate for China’s lack of command of sea in the case of a cross-Strait war, but it is able to disrupt the status quo of the world if it is used offensively as a shield for its fleets. Admiral/General Liu must have recognized this potential danger, which was in opposition to his dream for a high-seas fleet protecting China’s SLOC. As the founder of China’s modern navy, he knew the PLAN’s inherent deficiencies better than anyone. In striking contrast to the PLAA, which was forged into a formidable fighting machine through numerous victories and defeats, the PLAN was a mosaic of Soviet-trained officers with fragments of the Nationalist navy trained by either the US Navy or the Royal Navy. And it did not experience the forging process that the PLAA did and thus has been plagued with factional struggles and has been vulnerable to the struggle among the PRC leadership. In addition, China’s semi-closed coast places the PLAN in a disadvantageous geographic position if it is involved in a war against the United States. Realizing that its expediency would lead the PLA and China into a cul-de-sac, Liu kept himself out of the MSGNE’s development. If he were alive today, he would be proud of his beloved PLAN while increasingly anxious about its future.

Dr. Sherman Xiaogang Lai is an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). Before he immigrated to Canada in 2000, he served as a frontline foot soldier in China’s war against Vietnam, UN military observer and researcher in history and military strategy in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during 1987-1997. The views expressed in this article are his own.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.
Select a Donation Option (USD)

Enter Donation Amount (USD)

New Ship Boosts Taiwan’s HADR Capabilities

By Michael Thim

What are the most important warships of the World nations’ respective navies? A single nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of the US Navy boasts greater firepower than most national air forces, and the combined strength of a carrier and other warships assigned to protect it present force to be reckoned with. China, too, has been acquiring modern combat vessels, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s latest generation of guided missile destroyers, the Type 052D. As for Republic of China Navy (ROCN) protecting Taiwan, the leading ships of the ROCN’s Surface Action Groups (SAG) are Keelung-class (ex-USS Kidd-class) destroyers, originally built for the pre-revolution Iranian Navy and transferred to Taiwan in 2005-2006. If not the Keelung-class destroyer then maybe the French-built Lafayette-class frigates would be considered the most important (or most modern) assets of the navy. Some would perhaps single out the new stealthy fast missile corvettes of the Tuo Jiang class that do not impress much in terms of total displacement, but pack a formidable punch with 16 anti-ship missiles on board.

However, what if we rephrase that question and ask instead what are the most indispensable warships— the most useful ones? There is not an easy answer to that question either, however, as it encourages a focus on more than impressive weaponry and sleek design. Perhaps, then, a whole different class of ships will catch our attention: combat support ships or replenishment ships, to put it in more general terms. Combat support ships (known by the acronym AOE used by the US Navy) along with other types of replenishment ships usually do not get the same amount of attention that major combat ships do. However, they are absolutely critical for keeping a fleet on the open sea, especially under combat conditions when replenishment in port may be restricted. This is why the US Navy keeps a large fleet of replenishment ships, and why China is expanding its own. Until January 2015, the ROCN had one such vessel in its inventory: the AOE 530 Wuyi. Since the beginning of this year, the ROCN’s ability for replenishment underway have greatly expanded.

The guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), left, conducts a replenishment at sea with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force fast-combat support ship JS Hamana (AOE 424) during Pacific Bond 2012 June 7, 2012, in the East China Sea. Pacific Bond is a U.S. Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force maritime exercise designed to improve interoperability and further relations between the nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Declan Barnes/Released)
The guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), left, conducts a replenishment at sea with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force fast-combat support ship JS Hamana (AOE 424) during Pacific Bond 2012 June 7, 2012, in the East China Sea. Pacific Bond is a U.S. Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force maritime exercise designed to improve interoperability and further relations between the nations. (U.S. Navy /Wikimedia Commons)

The new, locally-built (by Kaohsiung-based CSBS Corporation) fast combat support ship the AOE 532 Panshih officially entered ROCN service for initial sea trials on January 23, 2015. The basic characteristics of the new vessel speak to its size and utility. The Panshih is 196 meters long with a full load displacement of 20,800 tons, and a light displacement of around 10,000 tons. For comparison, the ROCN’s biggest warships, the Keelung-class destroyers, are 172m long and have a full displacement of 9,783 tons. Considering the ship’s displacement and purpose, its maximum speed can reach an impressive 22 knots (40 kph). Perhaps more important is its range, which can reach 8,000 nautical miles (over 14,000 km). In executing its main duties, the Panshih is able to replenish two ships at the same time.

In terms of onboard weapons systems, the Panshih is indeed equipped modestly, mostly for defensive purposes. Based on various reports, it appears that Taiwan’s new AOE has two 40mm cannons, two 20mm Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS) and, strangely enough, an antiquated short-range air-defense system Sea Chaparral (based on the AIM- 9 Sidewinder), whose efficiency in combat is questionable (the model of the Panshih suggested that the front deck would have a 76mm multi-purpose canon that can be used against incoming aircraft and missiles). In addition, Taiwan’s new combat support ship does not only carry vital supplies for ROCN warships but its hangar is also able to accommodate two SH-60 (S-70) Seahawk or CH-47D helicopters.

Now that the ROCN has its new combat support ship, what use could it possibly find for it? With two AOEs in its inventory, the ROCN can conduct missions far from its shores without significantly jeopardizing homeland defense. Such missions could include anti-piracy patrols around the Horn of Africa, in line with the broader international effort to weed out threats to commercial shipping—something that is a matter of crucial interest to Taiwan, with its export-oriented economy. Other options include support for friendly port visits or participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises. For example, the participation of the Panshih in the biannual RIMPAC exercise could be less controversial than sending destroyers or frigates.

During wartime, both AOEs would present crucial capabilities to sustain ROCN operations under conditions where replenishment in home bases would become impossible due to PLA missile strikes and blockade efforts. Keeping the ROCN surface fleet operational would in turn enable it to conduct anti-blockade operations, including providing escort for vital supplies. Granted, the ROCN would still have to operate in an extremely hostile environment, likely forcing the bulk of the fleet to operate east off Taiwan. The crucial question is where the AOEs themselves would replenish, once their own supplies run out.

An HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Black Knights of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4 transfers pallets of supplies from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10) during a replenishment at sea. Image Credit: CC by Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr.
An HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Black Knights of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4 transfers pallets of supplies from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10) during a replenishment at sea. (Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr)

These are all important tasks for the new (as well as the old) AOE. Nevertheless, the versatility of the new vessel could materialize under conditions other than participation in broad international anti-piracy efforts (the politics that could prevent that is well-known) or wartime operations. Apart from the capability to sustain warship operations without need of resupply in home ports, the Panshih is also equipped with state-of-the-art medical facilities, including an operating room, an isolation ward, and three regular wards. That makes the Panshih well-equipped for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations. This is an important capability considering how prone Taiwan’s immediate neighborhood is to various kinds of natural disasters: earthquakes and typhoons (and the resulting floods and landslides) being the most common.

Taiwan has not been a shy actor in offering and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. For example, in January 2010 Taiwan sent rescue teams to Haiti, and its military C-130s conducted a record-breaking flight with much needed supplies on board. In March 2011, in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Taiwan again sent rescue teams and released significant financial aid to Japan. In November and December 2013, Taiwan again was among the first responders to typhoon-struck Philippines. Efforts at the governmental level dovetail well with private relief efforts, as time and again the will of the Taiwanese public to help people in need has been demonstrated. Taiwan’s already significant monetary and material contribution to Japan in 2011 was given a boost via various activities ranging from individual donations to organized efforts at the NGO level.

The Panshih has a great utility to enhance Taiwan’s government HADR efforts, which are greatly supported by the public’s own efforts and the activities of private aid groups like the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation. After all, using military capabilities for HADR is already a well-established pattern globally. During relief operations in the Philippines following the disastrous typhoon Haiyan that caused massive landslides, the United States, Japan, and China were among the nations that sent elements of their naval power to provide assistance. US relief efforts were assisted by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier battle group and a detachment of 12 MV-22 Ospreys along with US Marines. Japan, too, dispatched warships and troops to a disaster area, and Beijing ordered its hospital ship Peace Ark to be deployed to the Philippines.

MV-22 Ospreys assigned to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, take on supplies to provide aid during "Operation Damayan." The George Washington Strike Group supports the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade to assist the Philippine government in response to the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Republic of the Philippines. Image Credit: CC by U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr.
MV-22 Ospreys assigned to the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, take on supplies to provide aid during “Operation Damayan.” The George Washington Strike Group supports the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade to assist the Philippine government in response to the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Republic of the Philippines. (U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr)

In contrast, Beijing did not do itself much service in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan when it was criticized for its sluggish response, initially releasing US$1.4 million worth of relief supplies, an amount that paled in comparison with donations from the United States (US$20 million), Japan (US$10 million, later increased via various assistance mechanisms), Australia (US$28 million) or even Taiwan (US$12 million). This is not to suggest that HADR activities should serve as part of some cynical calculation in pursuit of bettering one’s national image. Nevertheless, being an active supporter of HADR activities and strengthening the capacity to help with rapid response allowing for a physical presence in an affected area creates good will on all levels of relations, from the person-to-person to the governmental. After Taiwan was shown to have been the largest donor (government and private financial aid combined) to Japan in 2011, Japanese citizens have not missed a chance to express their gratitude, and Japan’s government later defied the expected angry reaction from Beijing when it invited Taiwan to be represented on an equal footing with other nations to a commemorative event in March 2013. Financial and material aid is well complemented by having the capability to put boots on the ground, and the Panshih is a great platform from which both search and-rescue teams and medical teams can operate independently in a disaster area.

Taiwan is an active and significant contributor to HADR efforts. By including the Panshih in its fleet, the ROCN has significantly boosted its capability to be an active element in rapid response in a region that is plagued by frequent emergence of typhoons and earthquakes. Granted, politics might always prevent Taiwan from fully utilizing its potential. A neighboring nation that just suffered a disastrous calamity may feel hesitant to accept assistance presented by ROCN warship deployment, succumbing to likely pressure from Beijing. However, it is as likely that politics will give way to immediate need, and Beijing would be hard-pressed not to openly oppose Taiwan’s participation. Unfortunately, recent events suggest this latter is not an unlikely scenario, as the disaster this April in Nepal illustrated, when when China allegedly pressured the government in Kathmandu to refuse entry to a Taiwanese rescue team after Nepal experienced an extraordinarily deadly and destructive earthquake.

Whatever way future events go, the Panshih’s presence in the fleet should not be judged only against its role as a support ship for combat operations during wartime. However important such missions are, the first deployment of the Panshih is more likely to be much more benign, and much more appreciated on the receiving end.

Michal Thim is a postgraduate research student in the Taiwan Studies Program at the China Policy Institute (CPI), University of Nottingham, a member of CIMSEC, an Asia-Pacific Desk Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat and a Research Fellow at the Prague-based think-tank Association for International Affairs. Michal tweets @michalthim. This piece was originally published in Strategic Vision vol. 4, no. 21 (June, 2015).