Tag Archives: Taiwan

Taiwan’s Defense: National Interests over Semantics

The Diplomat has recently brought us a debate on international law – centering on the legality of military intervention on behalf of Taiwan during a conflict with the PRC. Zachary Kech kicked off by proposing that Japan’s recent reinterpretation of Article 9 of their Constitution to permit collective self-defense could allow for Japan defending Taiwan in the event of an attacked from China. This was followed by Julian Ku arguing that intervention by any nation on behalf of Taiwan against the mainland would be illegal since Taiwan is neither definitively recognized as an independent nation nor a United Nations member. Michal Thim quickly refuted those claims in an article, which is followed again by Julian Ku coming back with some clarifications on personal opinions and reiterates the original argument. Finally, Michael Turton and Brian Benedictus co-authored a somewhat convoluted argument that actually Taiwan’s unsettled status as an independent nation makes military intervention acceptable.

With no disrespect meant toward the authors, the merits of discussing this point are mostly academic. Though the debate may be stimulating to those with an interest in the topic and some might learn more about the subject of international law as a result of it, it has little to no bearing on practicality.

One of the key questions present in all of the articles is if Taiwan is an independent nation or an extension of mainland China and how international law views each situation. Clearly arguments can be made in support of both positions or else we would not have so many articles written about it in the past couple of weeks, but does it really matter? Whatever semantics used to describe relationships with Taiwan or China, the U.S. has active relationships with both of them.

Money keeps this machine running
Money keeps this machine running

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, China is currently the U.S.’s second largest goods trading partner with $562 billion in total goods trade during 2013 and Taiwan is currently the 12th largest with $64 billion in 2013. Would any of this change if the United Nations passed a resolution stating Taiwan was not an independent nation and officially a part of the larger mainland China? Of course not. Money, and more importantly national interests, will conquer over semantics any day.

Whether the U.S. or Japan would defend Taiwan if China decided to repatriate the island through military force should have nothing to do with semantics and everything to do with strategic interests. The strategic basis for protecting Taiwan or not is neither the subject of this article nor the debate at the Diplomat which inspired it. This article makes no comment as to should or would other nations protect Taiwan, but instead discusses could they.

There is so much talk about international law in the debate. International law, as opposed to simply international norms and conventions, has been in vogue since the fighting of two world wars and the founding of the United Nations. Why? Because law has an absolute and moral feel about it. If you are breaking the law then you are doing something wrong and others have a moral obligation to stop you. If you are following the law then you are doing something right and others have a moral obligation to support you. This grossly oversimplifies the complexities of international relations. Decisions are made to promote strategic national interests and all nations are not necessarily playing by the same moral and ethical code. In the domestic concept of law, you have a like peoples under a recognized government authority with enforcement power. This does not seamlessly translate to the international stage of co-equal governments with differing interests and no central authority with absolute enforcement power.

Welcome back
The Party welcomes you back

If China decided tomorrow to repatriate Taiwan with military force and the U.S. and Japan intervened, would they be protecting a sovereign nation from an invading force or helping to liberate a people from a government they do not want? This semantic difference might matter when deciding what article of the United Nations charter you are going to try to use for propaganda to gain support for your cause or generate opposition for your enemies or what the victor who writes the history will use to justify their actions in the history books. But in all practicality, nations should base their use of force on national strategy and not semantics.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

The East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)

hyn竖图模板The big news of the day is China’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over parts of the East China Sea, notably furthering the potential for conflict with Japan over the Senkakus/Diaoyus. Per guidelines released Saturday, the policy requires non-commercial aircraft in the space to pre-arrange flights with China’s government – effectively creating a pretense for action against Japanese military aircraft should they fail to comply with rules set for a space they likewise consider their own. Taiwan, which also maintains claims to islands it calls the Tiaoyutai, has voiced regret over the move.

Additionally, the zone may (unintentionally or intentionally) heighten tensions with South Korea as it extends close to South Korea’s Jeju island and appears to include the disputed submerged rock “Socotra Island” claimed by both South Korea as Ieodo and China as Suyan.

While the announcement by China’s Ministry of Defense was contained to the East China Sea, according to the Washington Post, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman, Yang Yujun, said that China would will create additional zones “at the right moment after necessary preparations are completed.”

 

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

h/ts to @zacharykeck, @wayale, @dmhartnett, @washburnt for sources.

Death of a Fisherman

The rough location of the shooting incident.
The rough location of the shooting incident.

Taiwan on Sunday sent a task force of three Coast Guard Administration vessels and one Lafayette-class navy frigate to waters near the northern Philippines, joining a Knox-class frigate already in the area. The move follows the death of a Taiwanese fisherman last Thursday that has strained ties between the neighbors.

The 65-year-old fisherman was aboard the fishing vessel Kuang Ta Hsin No 28 when he was killed in a confrontation with Philippine coastguardsmen aboard the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel MCS 3001, an incident now under investigation by the Philippines government.

On Friday, the Philippines confirmed that it had confronted two fishing vessels and fired at one, but only after it says a vessel tried to ram the 30-meter MCS 3001. Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said that the BFAR ship fired to disable the ship’s engines, and before the coastguardsmen were aware of the injury, they saw “a big white ship that apparently scared them off.  “Our people felt threatened so they left the area,” he said, according to AFP News.

It is important to note that although the Philippines insists the incident took place in its undisputed waters, so far Taiwan has not acknowledged that assertion, backing the Kuang Ta Hsin‘s claims that they were in an area of overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

A pair of BFAR MCS
A pair of BFAR MCS
Despite an increase in Filipino spending, Taiwan has more naval forces to call upon as a result of decades of inter-strait tension.
Despite an increase in Filipino naval spending, Taiwan has more naval forces to call upon as a result of decades of inter-strait tension.

Two additional Taiwanese fishing vessels reportedly rescued the Kuang Ta Hsin after it called for help and “towed the boat back to a port in southern Taiwan.”

Taiwan responded on Friday by demanding compensation from the Philippine Coast Guard, prosecution for those responsible, and an apology within 72 hours. Failure to comply would lead to a freeze on the hiring of Filipino nationals in Taiwan, said the spokeswoman for Taiwan’s presidential office, Lee Chia-fei.

The Philippines, however, are waiting for the result of their official investigation, with no word on its expected duration and in the mean time sticking by claims of justifiable self-defense. “If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology,” said Balilo. Nonetheless, the personnel involved have been suspended as a matter of routine pending the investigation’s outcome. Interestingly, another Filipino news site says video exists of the incident and will be used in the investigation but is not available for public viewing.

Meanwhile hackers from both nations have targeted each others’ government websites.

A Three-Way In The East China Sea?

Senkaku-Diaoyu-Tiaoyu-Islan
Or are there only two ways of looking at this map?

The conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea illustrates a number of issues in the Asia-Pacific region.  The People’s Republic of China’s expansive maritime claims is the granddaddy, but there are a number of contributing elements – from the challenges of deep-sea resource exploration to the region’s political relationships.  The week before Christmas the Center for National Policy hosted a discussion at their headquarters about a recent Scholars Delegation that took “next generation policy experts and decision makers” to Taipei to meet with officials from the Republic of China, known to most of us as Taiwan.  The delegation met with officials who were generally aligned with the current ruling party in Taiwan, the Kuomintang (or KMT).  The panel discussion in Washington illuminated the fact that the political relationships in Asia aren’t a simple challenge defined by “alliances” and treaties.  Instead, there are cultural and ethnic seams that cut through these relationships based in centuries of history, and encompassing domestic and international politics alike.

The President of Taiwan has put forward a peace proposal for the conflict in the East China Sea, setting aside the question of sovereignty and instead focusing on how to share the economic benefits of resource exploitation in and around the islands.   Many analysts have indicated that the plan is more of an effort to kick the can than anything else.  CIMSEC friend Dr. James Holmes instead has written that “It amounts to hoping that rational calculations of economic self-interest will overrule equally elemental imperatives such as fear of future aggression or the thirst for honor and prestige.”  The proposal raises a question:  Why is the leadership of Taiwan trying to avoid the question sovereignty?  The discussion at CNP helped shed some light on the answer, and it is likely because of those cultural and ethnic seams and centuries of history.

In their comments during the panel discussion, both Dr. Jacqueline Deal and Michael Breen noted that the KMT embodies a strategic paradox that is driving a confused policy for the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.  The KMT, the party once led by Chiang Kai-shek, believes that the Republic of China (ROC) is the rightful government of all of China, both Taiwan and the mainland.  According to their political platform reunification is a given once the People’s Republic of China (PRC) becomes democratic.  Because the KMT sees themselves and the ROC as Chinese, not Taiwanese, the foundation of their policy toward the Senkaku/Diauyo is exactly the same as the PRC: the Diaoyu belong to “China.”

This belief creates a strategy/policy disconnect for the KMT.  Strategic-level decision making becomes difficult because the party’s fundamental political belief can be at odds with the things that will help ensure the economic, political, and military security of the island of Taiwan.  Japan is likely the ROC’s strongest ally in the region, yet on the Senkaku/Diauyo the ROC rhetoric makes it appear that they are siding with the PRC.  Their fishing fleets have engaged in some unconventional tactics with the Japanese Coast Guard, similar to the work of the PRC’s maritime assets.  This likely strengthens the fact that the PRC prefers the “anti-PRC” KMT over the “liberal” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which believes in Taiwanese independence.  Is it any wonder that President Ma Ying-jeou wants to try and avoid the sovereignty issue?  Japan has elected a new conservative government with military expansion on their agenda.  The PRC has initiated maritime aviation patrols of the islands.  Neither side appears willing to set aside the fundamental sovereignty question in the conflict.

There is a large Chinese diaspora all over the world, from the islands of Southeast Asia to the streets of Panama City to Chinatowns of most major U.S. cities.  An audience member at the CNP panel reminded the gathering that there is a strong belief in all these places that the Diaoyu are “Chinese” – the political system that controls them is irrelevant.  The history of the Pacific and the military and political conflicts between the Chinese, Japanese, and the states of Southeast Asia go back centuries.  These cultural realities make the Pacific a complex place.  If the U.S. military thinks that trading the tribal cultures of Southwest Asia for the centuries of history in East Asia will make things simpler, it needs to rethink things.  Will hoping for modern ideals and economics to overwhelm centuries of culture and history work any better in Pacific waters than it did in Middle Eastern sands?

The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters. Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.