Friday, April 01, 2011

Will Temporary Relocations quietly shift Taiwan’s role with US

During the first few years of WWII, the USA trained some 12,000 of its soldiers to occupy and run the island of Taiwan in the wake of a proposed invasion of the island to kick out the Japanese colonial regime, which had originally taken the island in an imperialist war back in 1895. Since Taiwan was much more modern than China on the mainland, the USA even considered that Taiwan might become its own country, like neighboring Philippines after 1945.

Alas, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin gave Taiwan to the Generalissimo (Chiang Kai-Shek) at the Cairo Conference without really thinking things through geographically and developmentally. To make a long story short, the USA has often neglected the importance geographically of the islands of Taiwan–the furthest point west in the Pacific rim of island nations.

According ot the rumors running around Taiwan and the Western Pacific following the recent 9.0 earthquake in Japan, the USA may once again be needing to rethink its military plans in Eastern Asia.–KAS

Relocations quietly shift Taiwan’s role with US
By Wang Jyh-perng 王志鵬 /
Sat, Mar 26, 2011 – Page 8

At 2:46pm on March 11, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan, setting off a tsunami as high as 10m. About 24 hours later, the first of a series of explosions shook overheated reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The US hurriedly dispatched a group of 14 vessels, including two aircraft carriers, to assist the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in disaster relief work.

On the morning of March 18, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) had asked Taiwan to allow dependents of US civilian and military officials stationed in Japan to transit via Taiwan or to be temporarily accommodated here. This was followed by a similar request from Australia.

These moves attracted much media attention in Taiwan. A commentator on a political chat show claimed that 40 of the US personnel evacuated to Taiwan were members of the US Navy Marine Corps, and that the AIT was looking for as many as 900 hotel rooms, because rather than evacuating US citizens to Taiwan, it was transferring US intelligence gathering facilities, using Taiwan as a backup location.

According to some reporters, the US did not shift its operations to Shanghai because it sees Taiwan as a “provisional ally.” However, on the basis of my own observations and analysis, that is not the case.

Although political talk shows have made a big deal out of the story, other media have been relatively quiet, so there is really no reason to try and manipulate the story for political purposes. Besides, the US could use more definitive means like military airplanes and ships to evacuate its citizens to Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii or the continental US.

Another point to note is that the US has chartered civil airliners to evacuate its citizens. The first China Airlines 747 charter flight arrived in Taiwan from Japan early in the morning of March 18, carrying 96 Americans and their dependents. That military aircraft were not used indicates concern that such a move would be too sensitive with regard to cross-strait relations. As to the claim that 40 of those evacuated are members of the US Marine Corps, the veracity of that report is far from clear.

What kind of work do these people do — administrative, security or military? Did they arrive wearing civilian clothes or military uniforms? If the latter, it would make them very easy to spot. Even if there really are Marines Corps members among the evacuees, the fact that nobody has been able to identify them shows that the US is adopting an extremely low profile.

This operation has been qualitatively different to what happened after Typhoon Morakot, when the US sent ships and aircraft to help Taiwan’s relief efforts. The US is probably acting out of overall concern, choosing a suitable place for US dependents to transit on their way home, while government personnel normally stationed in Japan are staying in Taiwan for a short time, awaiting instructions depending on what happens in Japan.

It is not out of the question that the US might take this opportunity, under the cover of humanitarian assistance, to test the waters regarding sensitive areas in US-China-Taiwan trilateral relations. If the US and Taiwan continue to handle things in a low-key manner, China is unlikely to react. Beijing is well aware that any reaction it might make could be picked up on and played up by the Democratic Progressive Party. Using military means to provide humanitarian assistance or conduct humanitarian interventions is a two-edged sword; if one is not careful it can lead to political disputes. The US can hardly be unaware of that.

Wang Jyh-perng is an associate research fellow at the Association for Managing Defense and Strategies.

Translated by Julian Clegg

Published on Taipei Times :

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