Soft Power More Important to Taiwan's Security
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 6, 2010
The Obama administration has approved an arms sale to Taipei. Taipei has yet to discuss the sale or respond in any clear manner. Instead, strong protests from Beijing have attracted international attention. In particular, a thesis projecting a naval battle in 2015 has depicted Beijing sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier, and provoked rampant speculation. No matter where Taipei-Washington military procurements might lead, any analysis must consider the triangular relationship between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei.
Washington's arms sales to Taipei have long been viewed as a barometer of Washington's commitment to Taipei. This remains true today. President Obama approved this arms sale to Taipei. Taipei must cough up over 200 billion NTD. Yet the Ma administration felt obligated to "thank" Washington. That is why Washington must face Beijing's wrath.
The Ma administration went through the motions of thanking Washington for the arms sale. But the political atmosphere on Taiwan and on the international stage is undergoing subtle changes. From a government perspective, the sale did not include the submarines and F16C/D fighters Taipei wanted the most. Some say this proves Washington is favoring Beijing and dumping Taiwan. From a public perspective, non-governmental organizations have long opposed arms sales and objected to the government's budget allocations. Also, the price of US arms has skyrocketed. As a result, members of the public may not be falling over themselves with gratitude because "The Americans are willing to sell weapons to us." To some extent this reflects greater public confidence that cross-Strait relations are increasingly stable and peaceful.
More importantly, Mainland China is rising. The international community and the United States have formed G2. The tug of war between the two powers has become the new strategic focal point. Some say the probability of large-scale military conflict breaking out between the superpowers is nearly nil. In the event military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait escalates, some netizens scoff, it will not matter how much "tribute" Taipei gave the United States, or how many weapons it bought. Arms purchases are at best "whistling in the dark." Such remarks may be caustic. But Taipei lacks the ability to "maintain peace through strength." That much is indisputable.
As we can see, arms procurement issues are rife with paradoxes. First, Taipei offers Washington money, not to purchase weapons, but protection. Secondly, Washington is willing to protect Taipei, but only for its own interests. Thirdly, even if Taipei buys these weapons, in the event war actually breaks out, weapons by themselves will not Taipei to protect itself. Washington, Beijing, and Taipei have a triangular relationship. Is Taipei's role in this triangle purely involuntary?
Not necessarily. Taipei lacks the ability to "maintain peace through strength." Therefore we must use other means to avoid war. We must take preventive measures. We have no alternative. Taipei must use "soft power" to defend itself and maintain regional stability.
There are many forms of "soft power." The most important is an advanced form of democracy. Economic strength is of course another. Mainland China is rising. Taiwan's relative economic influence has diminished. But in areas such as the electronics industry, Taiwan remains important. Among these, talent and intellect are an important source of strength. Internationally renowed author Thomas Friedman said that Taiwan's human talent was its most important sustainable asset. Culture is another such force. When President Ma visited Central America, he passed through the United States. His host, the Mayor of Los Angeles, personally asked President Ma to help students in Los Angeles learn Chinese. This is one of Taiwan's many cultural assets.
Taipei must have the wisdom to make use of its "soft power." It can use its leverage to ensure peace between Mainland China and the United States. Taipei has used this leverage in the past. The Lee Teng-hui regime prided itself on "making the situation worse," and for being a "troublemaker." It mistakenly assumed that Taiwan independence forces could help the United States contain Mainland China's rise. But such was not the case. Mainland China's rise is a foregone conclusion. The strategic interests of the United States, Japan and other major powers have long ago changed. Some say that only if Taipei-Washington relations are stable, will cross-Strait relations be stable. In fact all three sides of the triangle formed by Washington, Beijing, and Taipei must be stable before the triangular relationship can be stable. That is why Taipei has a crucial role to play. At least it is no longer making trouble and undermining regional security. It is a small but nimble force poised between two larger forces. If it plays its role well, it will be exercising its soft power and ensuring Taiwan's security.
The arms sales controversy continues to rage. Taipei can apply pressure, not by waging war, but by encouraging Mainland China's peaceful rise. The Republic of China has experience with democracy. It has the ability to show Chinese societies the world over the nature of soft power.
2010.02.06 03:31 am