A few days back, I sent off a missive to the Taipei Times. Enjoy!

US picking on wrong target

By Michael Turton

Wednesday, Oct 12, 2005,Page 8

In recent weeks the media has been filled with commentators in the US warning that the US is losing patience with Taiwan, as the arms purchase bill has now been tabled more than 30 times in the legislature. Only a minority of these commentators manifest any awareness of local political divisions, and none have remarked on the most important shift in local politics: the fact that the pan-blue Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) have become pro-China parties. As a consequence of this, they are focusing on the wrong target.

This change is manifest most publicly in the visits by important pan-blue camp politicians to Beijing. It can also be seen in the recent trial balloons floated by the KMT, in which it would accept the purchase of submarines and P-3C anti-submarine aircraft, but turn down the Patriot missile batteries. Of those three the subs are useless and the aircraft can operate only if Taiwan controls the air, which, given the massive disparities in air power, is unlikely. Only the Patriots represent an effective weapon. Readers may draw their own conclusions as to why the KMT opposes the one really effective weapon in the package.

Recall further that the weapons package is one of a score of bills that needs passing, all stalled by the pan-blues. The US needs more than just an armed Taiwan; it needs a well-run government with a stable economy if Taiwan is to support the US policy of containing China. Any US response to the arms package should also focus on the fact that it is just one aspect, albeit the most public, of a multi-pronged campaign by the two pro-China parties to bring the nation’s government to a halt. Effective governance, after all, furthers Taiwan’s autonomy.

The failure to fully grasp that the blues have become pro-China parties has three major effects. First, US analysts who keep warning “Taiwan” to mend its ways are hitting the wrong target. The problem is not “Taiwan,” but blue legislators who routinely prevent the arms purchase bill from reaching the legislature. US policymakers who want the bill to pass need to come here and thump KMT and PFP heads, not sit in Washington and grumble that “Taiwan” doesn’t listen.

Second, one of the long-term goals of the blues is to embarrass the locals, to make it seem that the Taiwanese cannot run their own affairs, and to present Taiwan as a problem that can be made to go away through annexing the country to China. Each time an analyst in Washington complains about “Taiwan” rather than fingering the KMT and PFP, this strategy is rewarded.

Finally, another long-term goal of the blues is to drive a spike between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the US. The pro-China parties know that the DPP shares the ideals of democracy and independence with the US. They also know foreigners strongly sympathize with the DPP (indeed, in the 2000 election the Soong campaign actually ran ads showing that some foreigners did support Soong). The blues’ strategy is to prevent the arrival of the day when the US stops viewing the DPP as a problem, and starts seeing it as an opportunity. Thus, each time a US decisionmaker criticizes “Taiwan,” they reward that blue strategy by putting more distance between the US and Taiwan. In sum, as diplospeak puts it, pressure from the US is “not entirely helpful.”

Until the US attacks the problem by sending someone with credibility over here to speak frankly to the KMT and the PFP about their obstructive, pro-China behavior, nothing will change.

Michael Turton