No Opposition Party is an Island: Taiwan’s Defense and Domestic Politics
Newly elected DPP Secretary-General and opposition party member Dr. Joseph Wu discusses upcoming elections, mainland China, and Taipei’s defense posture as part of the wider US-Asia/Pacific rebalancing effort.
Jaushieh Joseph Wu is the Secretary-General of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan. Prior to his current appointment, he was the party’s chief policy official and the party’s representative to the United States. He also served as Deputy Secretary-General to the President of Taiwan from 2002-2004, Minister of Mainland Affairs from 2004-2007, and Taiwan’s official Representative to the United States from 2007-2008. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from The Ohio State University in 1989 and was a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.
The DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) has been out of office since 2008. What are the main policy agenda items you feel are most important prior to the election cycle in 2016?
The economy is certainly the number one issue of concern for the Taiwanese voters. The KMT (Kuomintang) government came to power with promises to achieve an average of 6 percent real GDP growth, 3 percent unemployment, and US$30,000 GDP per capita, but has failed in this regard. The people of Taiwan generally feel that the economy is worse than before, that income rates have stagnated, and that the cost of consumer goods is higher than ever.The DPP will certainly focus on important economic policy issues to address this public anxiety, especially in regards to the revitalization of Taiwan’s manufacturing sector.
Recent demonstrations attest to my depiction of Taiwan’s overall social and economic situation. In March and April of this year nearly half a million young people protested over the issue of generational justice, or the idea of ensuring younger members of society with better futures across the policy spectrum, not just economically, although this continues to play a significant role in current discussions. Notably, job training, loans, educational reform, higher average wages, and incentives for the private sector to hire younger employees have been on the agenda.
Beyond strict economic policy issues, wealth distribution in Taiwan has suffered a number of setbacks in the last few years. In short, the winners win more and the losers lose more. Social justice, better distribution, encouragement of equality, and education reform will also be on the DPP’s agenda. The issue of social justice carried the DPP’s election in 2012, and it was seen as a very successful undertaking. We anticipate following a similar strategy in 2016.
Finally, cross-straits policy is something none of the major or minor political parties in Taiwan can ignore. KMT’s recent strategy has been to agree to the One China Principle, a position that China prefers, with the result of giving the KMT the image of effectively managing cross-strait affairs, a portrayal that wasn’t lost on voters in the last national election.
However, after six years in power, public sentiment in Taiwan is that the KMT’s overwhelming submission to China may not be in Taiwan’s best interest. The hastily signed June 2013 Service Trade Agreement and the impatient maneuvering inParliament brought about public anger regarding the KMT’s control over cross-strait policy. Like the recent demonstrations over the nuclear issue, there is some concern by the people of Taiwan that the KMT government will announce new agreements with China without proper parliamentary, judicial, and public review and revision. The DPP advocates a more cautious approach that incorporates public sentiment to avoid the current climate of skepticism regarding the KMT’s long-term intentions.
The DPP takes a strong stance on national defense. What improvements should be made over the next ten years?
The DPP has published five defense blue papers to outline the areas Taiwan needs to strengthen its defense capability, ranging from overall principles to decision making, research and development, Taiwan-US cooperation, and threat assessment. We will continue to publish defense blue papers to highlight our determination to strengthen Taiwan’s defense. Specifically, the DPP has advocated an increase in the defense budget up to 3 percent of GDP, including funding for R&D programs such as at the Chung-san Institute for Science and Technology.
After publishing our fifth defense blue paper in March of this year DPP Chairperson Su Tseng-chang strongly advocated the DPP’s position that Taiwan should undertake an indigenous submarine program, establish a cyber security command, and engage in the research and production of UAV and UCAV. He stressed the absolute necessity that there must be a substantial increase of the defense budget.
The recent passage of HR 3470 authorizing the sale of four naval missile frigates is an excellent indication of continued American support for Taiwan’s defense. Unfortunately, the current administration in Taiwan subsequently chose to purchase two, citing budget constraints. The DPP is committed to a much more robust defense policy position than this, when and if the DPP comes back to power.
How can Taiwan better partner with the United States over defense policy in the Asia-Pacific region?
Taiwan should never be seen as the weakest link in the US strategic planning in the Asia-Pacific, and therefore should strive to improve the good existing security ties with the US in the areas of information sharing, cyber security, force assessment, war gaming, and joint training exercises. Taiwan also has a responsibility to better tighten its domestic control over sensitive information leaks, China’s espionage activities, and the loyalty of its own military officers.
Moreover, Taiwan should also improve its relations with its neighbors, particularly China, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The reason for improving relations with China is clear: it is the main threat against Taiwan, and Taiwan should work to improve mutual trust as a means of conflict prevention. As for Japan, it is the most important regional ally of the United States and is a strong partner in the US regional force rebalance. Taiwan should work hard to ensure friendly relations with Japan so that the two can gradually move into security cooperation as well.
How should the Republic of China interact with its neighbors over shared maritime lanes, specifically in regard to security?
Taiwan’s relations with its neighbors are paramount. After the signing of the fishery agreement, there has been increased cooperation between Taiwan and Japan for example. The two signatories should have more proactive engagement between our respective coast guard forces however, beginning with joint search and rescue operations and gradually moving into cross-military cooperation, such as force observation exercises and officer exchange programs. The same principles should be applied to Taiwan’s interactions with the Philippines.
In light of the recent serious dispute between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Taiwan, as a claimant, should also clarify its claim of sovereignty over the highly disputed and highly charged area so it can positively contribute to the existing complex situation. Taiwan’s adherence to the UN Convention on the Law of Sea is clear with regard to its sovereignty claim; it is in active control and administration of Tai-ping, the largest island in the South China Sea. Taiwan should also actively seek possibilities for participation in multilateral forums for joint codes of conduct, and when it is not able to, should nonetheless do so in spirit by subscribing to the principles that emerge from such forums. Additionally, Taiwan currently endorses the principle of the freedom of navigation and should publicly announce its intentions to eschew cooperation with China against other claimants on the sovereignty issue.
In what ways does the DPP encourage focus on its commercial and banking networks from cyber security threats?
Cyber espionage is the most serious security threat in peacetime, and Taiwan suffers constantly, along with the United States, from China’s cyber attacks. Taiwan should expand the operations and mandate of its Technical Service Center (cyber security unit) to improve coverage of important financial transactions to prevent China or any other hostile state- or non-state agent from gathering critical information and gaining access to the banking institutions. In this regard, potential Chinese interruptions to Taiwan’s normal financial activities during military hostilities have risen in recent years.
Taiwan is by and large the principal testing ground of China’s computer hackers, who direct efforts not only against government institutions but also civilian institutions and individuals in the public and private sectors. To counter this tendency Taiwan has developed advanced defense abilities in cyber security, including signing an information security cooperation agreement with the United States, which has proven to be important to the information and cyber security sectors of both countries. More broadly, Taiwan needs to expand its cyber security cooperation with other democracies and share its information and technology to prevent Chinese cyber espionage activities from creating further problems for the rest of the world.