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U.S. official urges Taiwan to transform thinking to counter China

2018/10/31 15:33:26

David Helvey, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs / CNA file photo

Annapolis, Maryland, Oct. 30 (CNA) A U.S. official said Tuesday that Taiwan should change its military thinking and figure out how to make sure it has the ability to safeguard continued peace and stability both across the Taiwan Strait and within the Indo-Pacific.

David Helvey, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, made the suggestion in his speech delivered at the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference 2018 in Annapolis, Maryland.

According to a transcript of the speech provided by Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense, Helvey said that in strengthening its armed forces, Taiwan is developing sufficient conventional capabilities to meet the peacetime needs of a military in a rough neighborhood.

But he warned that Taiwan could not "afford to overlook preparing for the one fight it cannot afford to lose."

In the face of China's growing military threat, Taiwan should respond by improving its national strength, which means innovation, smart investments and leveraging asymmetries to Taiwan's advantage.

To achieve that, those features should be incorporated into Taiwan's need for a credible, resilient and cost-effective deterrent.

To be credible, Helvey said, Taiwan's "acquisitions, training, and doctrine" need to "address the vulnerabilities of a potential adversary that spends more and fields faster."

Resiliency means that Taiwan's forces and systems are maneuverable and can operate autonomously while facing cyber, electronic, missile, and air attacks.

Being cost-effective means retaining conventional capabilities but focusing "research, development, procurement, and maintenance on affordable and scalable asymmetric capabilities that are integrated into a multi-domain defense," Helvey said.

"If Taiwan's military makes these changes to its force structure, it is equally important that Taiwan continue to make progress on how it trains and organizes its forces," he said.

"The Department of Defense has been helping Taiwan to think through how to increase joint capabilities while operating in a decentralized environment," he said, which will enable Taiwan to deploy mobile systems without central command and control.

Given the capabilities the People's Liberation Army (PLA) could bring to bear in a blockade or outright amphibious invasion, including information control, Taiwan's progress here is key, according to Helvey.

Achieving the goal will require developing and empowering junior officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), Helvey argued.

"Leaders at senior levels must trust that their junior leaders -- officers and NCOs -- are capable of performing their mission," he said.

These changes in thinking, procurement, planning and training are needed because of the magnitude of China's threat, Helvey said

"Taiwan cannot count on Beijing's forbearance for its security." Helvey said, adding that there is no indication that China is preparing to renounce the use of force, now or in the future.

The U.S. Department of Defense's own National Defense Strategy has highlighted this concern, as China leverages military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to its advantage, according to Helvey.

"China wants to alter the status quo and erode Taiwan's diplomatic space in the international arena, while increasing the frequency and scale of the PLA activity within and beyond the first island chain," Helvey said.

The U.S. official praised Taiwan's latest strategic vision, summarized in its Overall Defense Concept (ODC), because its focus on "asymmetric warfare, force preservation, and littoral battle leverages Taiwan's geographic advantages, while exploiting the key challenges an amphibious invading force is likely to face."

Helvey also commended Taiwan for pushing higher defense spending and focusing on self-strengthening, but said Taiwan has both too few dollars and too little time to focus on lesser priorities than those that are necessary for its own survival.

Talking about the United States' strategy to keep the Indo-Pacific free and open, the U.S. official said the U.S. maintaining its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act is critical to that goal.

"These obligations include supplying Taiwan with arms of a defensive character in order to ensure that Taiwan maintains a sufficient self-defense capability, and maintaining the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize our security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan," he said.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Evelyn Kao)
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