Sunday, August 21, 2005

Halloran on Arms Package

Richard Halloran, a former correspondent for the New York Times and Washington Post who now is a Hawaii-based freelance journalist, has written to the Taipei Times on the arms package requested by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and supported by President Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The political leaders of Taiwan, both government and opposition, are in serious danger of misreading or ignoring the increasingly stiff warning signals coming from Washington.

In its bluntest form, the US message is: Taiwan needs to do more to prepare for its own defense against a potential attack from China rather than rely largely on the US for its security. If it doesn't, the US may be less obligated to come to Taiwan's rescue.

It seems to me that there are two similar, but not identical, arguments being made in support of the arms package.
  • The American version, represented above, is Taiwan must invest in its own defense. To not do so sends a dangerous message to America that Taiwan isn't serious about defending itself from attack, which could undermine America's commitment to the island.

  • The Taiwanese version, which I find dangerous (see here and here for a more in depth explanation of why), seems to be an over-simplified version of the American version. It argues that Taiwan must buy the over-priced American-made weaponry as a form of protection money because, in the words of former President Lee Teng-hui:
    You can't take a bus without paying for it.
While I recognize the legitimacy of the former argument, I feel it is counterproductive because its similarity to the former, which I abhor. When American experts express the former, the Taiwanese defense community, pundits, and politicians here the latter. I guess if the "this is needed for defense" argument isn't breaking the political deadlock, it makes sense to try other arguments, but I really find this one to be more trouble than it is worth. America doesn't ask for protection money and should avoid characterization as a country that does.

On a related note, the same edition of the Taipei Times offers a summary of the latest happenings with regard to the arms package and especially speculation as to whether or not new Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou will support the budget.