Washington D.C., Jan. 12 (CNA) Closer economic ties between Taiwan and China may be more successful at deterring cross-strait military conflict than the military posture of the United States, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said at a forum held in the U.S. on Monday.
Perry, who served as defense secretary from 1994 to 1997 during the Clinton administration, was participating via video conference in a forum organized by the National Committee on United States-China Relations, a New York-based non-profit organization that promotes cooperation between the U.S. and China.
During Perry's tenure, the U.S. government sent aircraft carrier battle groups to defend Taiwan in 1996 during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, which saw China conduct missile tests in the region to intimidate Taiwanese voters before Taiwan's presidential election.
When asked about his views on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Perry said that since leaving office, he has spent time in track-two meetings with China and Taiwan to see if there were a way to reduce the likelihood of a military conflict between the two.
He discovered that promoting greater economic, social and travel ties between China and Taiwan has been a successful way to achieve the goal, Perry said, lauding the opening of air travel and the deepening of industrial ties between the two countries.
"If you think back to the days of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union had a MAD policy, Mutual Assured Destruction, as a way of deterring action, now I would say that Taiwan and China have MAED, Mutual Assured Economic Destruction," he said.
If a military conflict were to occur now between the two, billions of dollars in economic value would be destroyed each month, Perry said.
"So it's a very, very huge deterrent to their taking any military conflict with each other, much more important, I think, than sending carrier battle groups to Taiwan."
Harold Brown, who served as the U.S. secretary of defense during the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, said U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are a signal to China that they cannot count on the U.S. to be passive if there is an attempt to take over Taiwan by force.
"In other words, these (arms) transfers would not really affect the outcome of such an attempt, but they signal that the Chinese can't be sure that (there) would not be a major and perhaps a conflict-provoking reaction from the United States. So it's a signal," Brown said.
The latest U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, approved by the U.S. government on Dec. 16, consisted of a US$1.83 billion package that includes two Perry-class frigates, 12 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles and Stinger missiles.
On the same topic, William Cohen, the U.S. defense secretary from 1997 to 2001, mentioned the Taiwan Relations Act and said other allies are watching how the United States handles its commitment to Taiwan.
If it fails to reinforce its commitment, other countries will doubt the U.S.'s treaty obligations to them as well, Cohen said.
Also during the forum, Chuck Hagel, who served as defense secretary from 2013 to 2015, expressed hope that the new government of Taiwan, which is set to be elected this week, "doesn't start to unwind some of the progress that I believe is the right progress toward the right end, toward the right kind of an agreement, that gets China and Taiwan to where they need to be."
He also hoped it "doesn't put the United States in a position where then we have to make a tough decision on whether we are going to support obligations or not," Hagel said.
(By Tony Liao and Christie Chen)