Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Official Text

The U.S. Role in Asia-Pacific Security

BG0001E | Date: 2000-01-05

Remarks by Director Raymond F. Burghardt
American Institute in Taiwan
To the Asia-Pacific Security Forum Conference
"The Dynamics of Asia-Pacific Security: A Fin-de-siecle Assessment"
Friday, December 17, 1999
The Grand Hotel

Defense Minister Tang, INPR President Tien, distinguished international guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Now that we are in the last few days before the turn of the calendar, I wonder how many other conferences are taking place around the globe -- looking back, looking forward, making predictions about the next century or perhaps the next millennium. But I can hardly imagine any conference taking on a topic that will have as much impact on the future peace, prosperity, and stability of so many people as this one, on Asia-Pacific security.

Even as this century has shrunk the distances between us, it has broadened our thinking about how to define the regions of the world. We have come to understand that the term "Asia-Pacific" refers not just to what Westerners used to call 'the Orient" or "the Far East," but rather it embraces the people on both sides of the ocean and in between.

The title of this conference does not limit us to looking either at the century that is ending or to the one beginning. I have to admit I am tempted to take the easy way out, offering only a snapshot of the issues and activities that we have faced in 1999.

But even that snapshot would have to cover quite a few scenes: There was the violent Chinese reaction to the mistaken NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade last May. I certainly remember vividly the students throwing rocks through the window of my office in Shanghai.

There was the concern that was evoked in July when President Lee put forth his "special state-to-state" formulation for cross-strait contact; the long-awaited U.S.-PRC WTO agreement in November; and there was what some call the "Battle in Seattle," the WTO talks in early December.

All these events and issues bore directly or indirectly on Taipei-Washington-Beijing relations. The diversity of these events, which span military, diplomatic, political, and economic relationships, is a perfect illustration of the complex nature of the world at the end of the century.

My topic is the American role in the Asia-Pacific region, and I would like to describe our commitment first from a broad regional perspective.

I use the word "commitment" in the fullest sense. The United States is committed to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific. We believe that our presence, our active engagement, and the judicious use of our resources - military, diplomatic, financial, and cultural resources - can help to promote peace and stability in this region to which we all belong.

American engagement in the region takes many different forms. I'll start with one of the most visible, which is our forward deployment of about 100,000 troops. Some are stationed in Japan and Korea, and some rotate through the region. This level of forces in peacetime allows us to shape a strategic environment that can sustain the peace and deter further conflict.

The U.S. military presence in this region gives us the ability to anticipate problems, manage potential threats, and encourage peaceful resolution of disputes. It gives us avenues for coordination and cooperation with military counterparts in Asia. It gives us an effective way to contribute to constructive political, economic, and military development in this region. It provides a secure and reliable context for U.S. trade and investment, as well as for cultural, social and educational exchanges.

As part of this comprehensive range of engagements with East Asia, our regional security policy has to address the role of the PRC. American engagement with the PRC on a wide range of issues - including security issues - is very much in the interest of Taiwan, the United States, and others in the Asia-Pacific.

Just like their Taiwan counterparts, the U.S. military and intelligence communities closely watch military developments in the PRC. We are well aware of PRC efforts to upgrade its military capability, and we understand Taiwan's concerns about being a target of that upgraded capability.

We have noted the PRC's increased deployment of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan in recent years. Such developments certainly weigh in the decisions we make about our interactions with the PRC and with Taiwan.

An important part of the U.S. commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region is our role in helping Taiwan to build and maintain its self-defense capability. This obligation is set forth in U.S. law, in Section 3 of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. The Act obligates the United States to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.

It also calls for maintaining the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.

The Act directs the United States to "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." The Act further instructs the President and the Congress to make determinations about the kinds and quantities of these articles and services based on their judgment of Taiwan's needs, in accordance with procedures established by law. In practical terms, these judgments have to factor in Taiwan's requests, U.S. policy and interests, and current conditions in the region.

How have these obligations been carried out? The most visible result is the wide array of U.S.-built defense equipment that is now in use or on order by the Taiwan military. For air defense capability, the list includes E-2T airborne early warning aircraft; NIKE, HAWK, and CHAPARRAL ground-based air defense systems; the Modified Air Defense System, a Patriot missile system derivative; and 150 F-16 fighters. Taiwan has Knox-class frigates for anti-submarine warfare and to protect sea lines of communication, and M-60A3 tanks and armed helicopters to counter an amphibious invasion.

We have also provided support for Taiwan's Perry-class frigates equipped with the anti-aircraft Standard Missile, or SM-1, for protection of sea lines of communication. Taiwan has purchased air and ship launched HARPOON anti-ship missiles.

One of the most recent acquisitions of the Taiwan Army is the Improved Mobile Subscriber Equipment tactical communications system. The army used this system with great success during the 921 earthquake relief effort.

Less obvious than the hardware, but just as important, is the software, by which I mean a very active program of training and consultations. We conduct exchanges and the United States hosts Taiwan visitors in areas such as personnel, training, logistics management, development of joint service doctrines, and what is known as C4I - command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence. American experts frequently visit Taiwan to conduct training, to make recommendations about how to utilize or maintain the hardware that is now in place, and to help in determining Taiwan's defensive missions, capabilities, and needs. Furthermore, we have a significant student body from Taiwan taking military training in the United States.

This broad range of interaction has allowed the United States and Taiwan to work together effectively for the past 20 years. We in the United States consider the security program to be one of the most important aspects of our relationship with Taiwan. At AIT, I consider the security program to be one of the key reasons why our office is here.

In recent months there has been an effort in Washington to redefine the U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation that is carried out under the Taiwan Relations Act. I'm referring to the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, a bill that starts from the premise that the United States is not giving Taiwan what it needs, and that it is the role of Congress to redress that perceived deficiency.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth testified to Congress in August detailing the Clinton Administration's strong opposition to this bill. The Administration believes this bill could actually weaken Taiwan's security and have a negative effect on U.S. security interests in the region. It certainly would be seen as a significant revision of the Taiwan Relations Act.

As Stanley Roth argued, the mechanisms that are already in place for U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation are strong, proven, and comprehensive. He expressed concern that the PRC would interpret the bill as a direct challenge and would build up its missile deployments, even as the United States has been trying to persuade the PRC to scale back its missiles. So, rather than improving Taiwan's security situation, the new mechanisms under the TSEA could actually lead to an arms race that would move all parties one step farther from a peaceful cross-Strait resolution.

We need to look objectively at the so-called Security Enhancement Act and whether it would really be in Taiwan's interests. To quote an old American maxim, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Another topic that comes up in almost every discussion of U.S. security cooperation with Taiwan is theater missile defense, or TMD. Of course the issue is much broader than the United States and Taiwan, but if you read the headlines in some newspapers on some days you would think that TMD is a reality, that the United States and Taiwan have made decisions about provision and acquisition, and that it is Taiwan's only hope of protection.

All three premises are false. TMD is still very much in the conceptualization and development stage. Deployment is years away. We have briefed Taiwan, as we have other friends, on TMD. We do not preclude providing TMD to Taiwan, but it is premature to make that decision now.

And we must remember above all, TMD or any other military solution will not be the only or even the most important factor in ensuring Taiwan's future security.

Although the drafters of the Taiwan Relations Act recognized the potential military threat from the PRC, they did not intend for the American commitment to Taiwan to rely on weapons alone. U.S. security policy toward Taiwan, and indeed toward the entire Asia-Pacific region, is not just a question of military strength.

Security is more than military capability. There are political, economic, and social aspects that are just as important, or perhaps more important, than military hardware in maintaining the peace and in resolving differences.

The Taiwan Relations Act acknowledges that there are many dimensions of U.S. concern for the security and prosperity of Taiwan and its people. Commercial and cultural ties are just as explicitly a part of our unofficial relationship under the Taiwan Relations Act as are military sales.

With the Taiwan Relations Act as a foundation, over the last 20 years a series of fundamental principles of U.S. policy concerning issues in the Taiwan Strait have evolved. These principles include:

* First, the U.S. commitment to our one-China policy as defined by the three
* Second, our insistence that the Taiwan Strait issue must be resolved peacefully.
* Third, our confidence that the two sides have the creativity to resolve the issue on
their own, without U.S. mediation.
* Fourth, our refusal to pressure either side to accept any arrangements it does not
believe are in its interests.
* Fifth, an understanding that any arrangements between Beijing and Taipei should
be on a mutually acceptable basis, not imposed by one side on the other;
* Sixth, an understanding that because Taiwan is a democracy, any arrangements
between the two sides ultimately have to be acceptable to the Taiwan public; and
* A willingness to support any outcome that is voluntarily agreed to by both sides of
the Taiwan Strait.

These principles establish and reinforce our belief that Taiwan's security in the future will depend not only on its military defenses, but on the two sides of the Strait building a framework that maximizes the potential for cooperation and through which each side addresses the concerns of the other. The Koo-Wang talks represented a significant step toward cooperation, and we hope the two sides will be able to resume the series of talks in the near future.

One of the defining features of our era is that commercial relations often are far more advanced than political ties. Business leaders often are ahead of political leaders in breaking down mistrust and misunderstanding. The increasing economic interdependence between Taiwan and the PRC may be an example of that phenomenon.

Taiwan's amazing economic success story has spilled over to the PRC, in the form of the considerable investments that business owners from Taiwan have made in the PRC. More than 200,000 business people from Taiwan live and work in the PRC, employing about 3 million workers. I knew many of those Taiwan businessmen in Shanghai. What these enterprises contribute to the PRC economy helps to raise standards of living, preserve social stability, and give both sides a stake in future peace and cooperation.

What lies ahead in all these dimensions - political, military, economic, and social? We can read a few signs as we wait for history to unfold. Despite the slowdown on the political front, economic interaction between Taiwan and the Mainland continues to move ahead. There are some important new trends, such as the shift of Taiwan's investment away from Guangdong to the Yangtse Delta area, which is attracting Taiwan manufacturers in the information technology industry.

It was not surprising, therefore, that one visitor to Taiwan during the past month was the Mayor of Suzhou, a city which has been a magnet for Taiwan's investment.

There are signs that some people on both sides of the Strait are laying the foundation for more direct contact. In the PRC, for example, improving the airports in Xiamen and Shanghai, perhaps in readiness for the day when direct air links are possible. And during the past year, representatives of PRC and Taiwan airlines have met to make sure that they are ready whenever the politicians are ready.

If the events of the 20th century have left us any lesson for the 21st it is this: We cannot predict the future, but we can prepare for it. For the United States, this means that rather than simply reacting to events as they occur, we will set and carry out sound yet flexible policies that meet our goal of promoting Asian peace and stability. We will continue to uphold our legal commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. We will help to maintain a climate of peace and stability in this region now and into the 21st century.

The end of the Cold War allows us to direct our energy and our strength toward peace, toward healthy global economic relations, and toward multilateral cooperation. The United States is determined to remain a major power in the Asia-Pacific. Our presence, our actions, our involvement clearly demonstrate our commitment and our intention to remain engaged in the region, providing continuity and promoting stability in the midst of whatever changes or challenges the future may bring.