Our First Line of Defense:
Not F16s, but One China, Different Interpretations
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 22, 2011
Summary: Washington will help Taipei upgrade its existing 145 F-16 A/B fighter planes. For years the Chen administration and the Ma administration tried to purchase F-16 C/D fighters. But neither was successful. The greatest benefit derived from Taipei's recent arms procurement attempt was the revelation that the Republic of China's first line of defense is not F-16s, but one China, different interpretations.
Full Text below:
Washington will help Taipei upgrade its existing 145 F-16 A/B fighter planes. For years the Chen administration and the Ma administration tried to purchase F-16 C/D fighters. But neither was successful.
Washington attempted to strike a balance between Taipei and Beijing. On the one hand, to mollify Taipei, Washington promised to upgrade Taipei's F-16 A/Bs. On the other hand, to mollify Beijing, it rejected Taipei's attempts to purchase F-16 C/Ds. According to reports, the upgrades to the A/Bs will increase their performance, making them functionally equivalent to the C/Ds. Essentially, Washington is playing a name game.
The arms purchase is more symbol than substance. Its political significance outweighs its military significance. For Washington, it strikes a strategic balance between Taipei and Beijing. For Taipei, it reaffirms the Taiwan Relations Act. It symbolizes Washington's military links with Taipei. For Beijing, Washington's refusal to sell Taipei the C/Ds, and its substitution of upgrades to Taipei's existing A/Bs, constitutes an abrogation of its political commitment to Taipei, and its military commitment to upgrade its weaponry.
Former premier Hau Pei-tsun commented on the U.S. arms purchases. He said that "Frankly, how many arms Washington sells us and what kind of arms Washington sells us, is not the most important thing. What is important is that this [buyer/seller] relationship exists, and that it have a legal basis. That is the purpose of the Taiwan Relations Act." The current arms purchase should be measured against this standard.
When one gets down to it, Washington is not selling fighter planes to Taipei so that Taipei and Beijing can go to war. Taipei is not buying fighter planes from Washington so that it can fight with Beijing. The Cold War is over. The Chinese mainland is on the rise. Washington's unilateralism is in decline. Taipei's arms purchases from Washington are primarily a political declaration. They are not however, a declaration of an intention to fight. Instead these military procurements are a political declaration. The are a declaration of an intention not to fight. In other words, they are more symbol than substance, and their significance is more political than military.
If the two sides go to war, the F-16 C/Ds will not be inadequate. If the two sides engage in peaceful development, the F-16 A/B upgrade will more than adequate -- as political symbolism. Washington has refused to sell Taipei the C/Ds. But it has agreed to upgrade the existing A/Bs, Washington has concluded that the two sides will not resort to force to resolve their differences, but instead will resolve their differences by peaceful and democratic means.
Therefore, the Republic of China's national defense thinking must change with the times. Ultimately its national defense will depend not primarily on submarines, aircraft, and missiles. It will depend on adherence to the One China, Different Interpretations strategy, consistent with the Republic of China Constitution.
The One China, Different Interpretations national constitution strategy involves several premises. One. It defends the Republic of China and upholds the Republic of China Constitution. Taiwan independence must inevitably lead to cross-Strait military conflict. Therefore it is hostile to peaceful development. Two. Upholding the Republic of China Constitution, and implementing constitutional republicanism, is defending the nation. As long as the Republic of China continues directly electing its president, as long as the Legislative Yuan continues to convene, then cross-Strait relations will be determined in accordance with Republic of China constitutional procedures. It will be determined by 23 million people, This is the basis of cross-Strait peaceful development. This is the basis of the Republic of China's national defense.
Expressed as a negative, the Republic of China's national defense means not giving Beijing an excuse for military action, for example, by moving toward Taiwan independence. Expressed as a positive, it means defending the Republic of China and upholding the Republic of China Constitution. It means maintaining cross-Strait peace and development, As long as our constitutional republic continues to operate, business as usual, it will be able to determine the future of cross-Strait relations, peacefully and democratically, A rational process will enable the two sides to better resolve their differences.
One China, different Interpretations is the best means of national defense. As long as we adhere to a constitutionally mandated One China, we can invoke One China, different interpretations to maintain the status quo. But once we repudiate the Republic of China Constitution, once we repudiate the Republic of China, we forfeit our right to demand different interpretations. We forfeit the basis for peaceful development. When we forfeit our right to different interpretations. Beijing will immediately attempt to impose its interpretation of one China. We will then forfeit the basis of our national defense.
In other words, the biggest threat to the Republic of China's national defense is Taiwan independence. Tsai Ing-wen's recent policy statements did not explicitly advocate Taiwan independence. Clearly she knows the risks. But she repudiated the Republic of China and the Republic of China Constitution. She spun her repudiation as a "Taiwan consensus." She also repudiated One China, different interpretations. This is not rational cross-Strait policy. It is definitely not rational national defense policy.
One China, different interpretations is a three way consensus among Taipei, Beijing, and Washington. On March 26, 2008, Hu spoke to Bush on the hotline. He told George W. Bush that the two sides were about to resume talks on the basis of One China, different interpretations. Washington has repeatedly affirmed the Ma administration's cross-Strait policy achievements, Of course it knows these achievements are predicated upon the 1992 consensus, and one China, different interpretations. Therefore "no [immediate] reunification, no independence, no use force" and one China,different interpretations is the greatest common denominator among Taipei, Beijing, and Washington. It is also the Republic of China's first line of defense. To repudiate one China, different interpretations, is to subvert the cross-Strait status quo.
The greatest benefit derived from Taipei's recent arms procurement attempt was the revelation that the Republic of China's first line of defense is not F-16s, but one China, different interpretations.