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Enhance Taiwan-U.S. cooperation to deter China: Ex-AIT chair

03/22/2023 09:59 PM
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Former American Institute in Taiwan Chairman and Managing Director Richard Bush (right) speaks at the "Difficult Choices: Building Taiwan
Former American Institute in Taiwan Chairman and Managing Director Richard Bush (right) speaks at the "Difficult Choices: Building Taiwan's Resilience for an Uncertain Future" forum in Taipei on Wednesday. CNA photo March 22, 2023

Taipei, March 22 (CNA) Taiwan and the United States can work together to deter Beijing from "starting a fight in the first place," former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman and Managing Director Richard Bush said Wednesday.

At the "Difficult Choices: Building Taiwan's Resilience for an Uncertain Future" forum in Taipei, Bush said the "not zero" chance of war could likely be averted - particularly given that invading Taiwan could lead to a U.S. intervention.

In light of the high stakes involved with military action, China has opted to take an "intermediate approach" to coerce Taiwan, which comes at a lower risk, Bush said.

However, a war could still break out if Beijing perceives - or misperceives- that the government in Taipei is taking deliberate and irreversible steps toward Taiwan independence, Bush said.

"So the risk of military conflict is not zero… and if the People's Liberation Army (PLA) were to win such a military campaign, life on Taiwan as people know it will disappear - just look at Hong Kong," Bush said.

Bush said one way to reduce the risk of conflict is to "credibly reassure Beijing that Taiwan will not cross its redline."

For example, Bush suggested having the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) remove a clause advocating for independence from its charter.

However, Bush also noted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seemed unwilling to co-exist with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her DPP administration.

While Washington has consistently said that it does not support Taiwan's independence, Beijing has repeatedly asserted that this is an empty promise in view of the U.S.' increasing support for Taiwan, Bush said.

That leaves Taiwan and the U.S. with one option: to build a deterrence so strong that Beijing would decide against attacking Taiwan, Bush said.

Taiwan's military as it stands is not enough to hold off the much larger PLA forces long enough for U.S. troops to enter the fight, which will take more than a month, according to Bush.

As such, Taiwan faces the choice of whether to take a chance on defending the nation with a relatively small force or to build a force that is well-trained and larger than actually needed but will effectively enhance deterrence, Bush said.

In addition to increasing the absolute size of Taiwan's defense budget, the Tsai administration has announced plans to increase mandatory military service to one year, Bush said.

Despite the extended conscription period upsetting many parents of draftees, the stakes have become too high for Taiwan's leader not to make these tough choices, Bush said.

To address polarizing policies, Bush suggested Taiwanese political leaders from across party lines meet to outline a set of principles demonstrating unity.

For example, they could state their joint expectation that Beijing will remain neutral in word and in deed in Taiwan's elections as well as respect the result, Bush said.

One other area of cooperation could be agreeing on the acceptable degree of Taiwan's dependence on China's economy, and depending on that assessment, creating the appropriate legal policy and institutional framework, Bush said.

They should make clear that Taiwan will not engage in political talks as long as they are based explicitly or implicitly on Beijing's "one country two systems" formula, and that any formula should be created through negotiations, not before negotiations even start, Bush said.

The various parties could state as a matter of basic principle that any change in Taiwan's legal identity must be approved by passing constitutional amendments, Bush said.

Meanwhile, panelist Enoch Wu (吳怡農), Director of Forward Alliance, a civil defense NGO, said that while cross-strait engagement is important for its ability to minimize misunderstandings, it cannot come at the expense of being prepared.

As part of the efforts to transform conscription and share the load of fostering civilian defense forces with the Defense Ministry, Wu suggested revamping Taiwan's alternative service system by stepping up training on crisis management and providing support to first responders.

On the issue of developing civilian defense forces, Wu said that his alliance has trained thousands of civilian responders to build a volunteer corps that can mobilize in case of natural or manmade disasters.

"I'm happy to report to you from the field, that if we provide meaningful training, if we respect people's time, the public will come," Wu said.

"And when they come, it's not just men, women will be there, too, not just the young retirees," he said.

(By Sean Lin)


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