Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Monday, February 16, 2009

Taiwan Defense

I came across an Associated Press Article titled, "US Intel Chief Warns Against China-Taiwan Conflict."

The article quotes Dennis Blair, who is President Obama's National Intelligence Director. Though not mentioned in the article, I think it's important to note that Admiral Blair was once Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. If anyone in Washington understands China-Taiwan tensions, it is him.

The article summarizes Director Blair's recent testimony before Congress regarding China's large military buildup:

Blair told lawmakers that China's double-digit annual percentage military spending increases — last year's budget jumped 17.6 percent to about $61 billion — "pose a greater threat to Taiwan."

"Unless Taiwan does something about it, then we're really the only other country helping them do it," Blair said. "That means we're going to have to help them some more in order to maintain a balance."

Much of China's military is focused on rival Taiwan, which relies on U.S. weapons and technology to counter the hundreds of missiles China aims at the self-governing island Beijing claims as its own territory.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are a persistent source of U.S.-China tension — Beijing was infuriated by the Bush administration's announcement last year of a $6.5 billion arms package for Taiwan.

The United States is required by its own laws to provide the island with weapons to defend itself and has hinted it would come to Taiwan's aid if mainland forces invaded. But Washington is also wary of angering China, a major trading partner and fellow U.N. Security Council member.

Blair, a retired admiral who heads 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, told a Senate panel that the United States must continue to "make sure that military adventures are unattractive" to both sides. He indicated that the U.S. feels responsible for striking a balance in the Strait.

"Taiwan should not be so defenseless that it feels it has to do everything that China says. On the other hand, China cannot be so overwhelming that it can bully Taiwan," Blair said, answering congressional questions about the U.S. intelligence agencies' latest assessment of threats to the United States.

He also cautioned that "Taiwan has to realize that its long-term security lies in some sort of an arrangement with China. It does not lie in military defenses."

Director Blair's testimony provides a few clues to the administration's attitude toward Taiwan, but of course nothing in Washington is ever guaranteed. Still, it's encouraging to me that despite the many changes in our relationship with Taiwan since the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command was established back in 1955, we are still at least somewhat committed to helping them defend themselves against aggression.

I hope that nothing happens to change that commitment.

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