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Taiwan in an Asian "Game of Thrones"

From: Asia Policy
Number 15, January 2013
pp. 18-20 | 10.1353/asp.2013.0003

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Ever since President Barack Obama pronounced himself as the first Pacific president of the United States in November 2009, Taiwan has closely watched the gradual but multidimensional shift of the country's foreign policy focus toward Asia. From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's October 2010 speech in Hawaii on engagement in Asia and the United States' growing interest in participating in the Pacific Islands Forum, to President Obama's announcement of a new defense strategic guidance in January 2012 and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's statement at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue about transferring 60% of U.S. Navy assets to Asia by 2020, Taiwan has paid close attention to the U.S. government's efforts at strategic rebalancing toward Asia.

Taiwan is not alone. In the past decade, U.S. regional friends and allies all have witnessed the rise of Chinese economic influence and military capability. During the Cold War, the United States was both the largest trading partner and the ultimate security guarantor to its Asian allies. Maintaining a good relationship with Washington was thus the key to both national wealth and security. Today, however, China's emergence as the world's second-largest economy, with a high growth rate in military expenditure, has confronted U.S. allies in Asia with the dilemma of choosing between pursuing the economic benefits of trade with China and mitigating security concerns over its rise. The new U.S. strategic orientation of rebalancing toward Asia could help stabilize the region.

Like other U.S. allies and friends in the Asia-Pacific who are beneficiaries of both trade with the United States and the U.S. military presence, Taiwan welcomes Washington's re-engagement with the region. Taiwan views U.S. rebalancing toward Asia as a positive development that advances both U.S. self-interest and bilateral relations between Taipei and Washington. When meeting with former U.S. national security adviser General James Jones on June 22, 2012, President Ma Ying-jeou stated that "the U.S. has consistently been an important force for stability in Asia.... Taiwan not only welcomes this [rebalancing] development, but also desires to further strengthen its interaction with the United States on the economic, trade, security, and cultural fronts."1 Many in the Taiwan policy circle view U.S. rebalancing as a natural and comprehensive response to the vibrant Asian economy and the rise of Chinese influence over the entire region. On the other hand, however, this strategic reorientation is also seen as incomplete and requiring ongoing planning.

Taiwan experts understand the rebalancing strategy to be like a trident, combining the three prongs of multilateral diplomacy, trade promotion, and military redeployment. On the diplomatic front, the United States is not only proactively participating in almost all regional multilateral economic and security forums but also enhancing bilateral relations with traditional allies, countries in Southeast Asia, and countries traditionally close to China. On the economic front, in addition to its active involvement in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the United States has worked to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would create the largest and most liberalized free trade area in the world. On the security front, the introduction of the air-sea battle concept and the U.S. military's future plans for force realignment serve as a counterbalance to China's growing force-projection capability. In this "strategic trident," Taiwan sees a comprehensive U.S. approach to rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region.

Yet even with this determination, U.S. rebalancing toward Asia is considered by many in Taiwan as a "do-as-you-go" type of policy for several reasons. First, when President Obama issued the new strategic guidance at the Pentagon, he also announced deep defense budget cuts over the next ten years, raising questions about whether the United States will have the resources available to support and sustain a pivot to Asia. Second, given that the United States is moving away from its decade-long ground war in the Middle East and Afghanistan and that the topography of the Asia-Pacific prioritizes naval and air operations, reductions to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps make sense. However, with a...


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