US General Wallace Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said that President Barack Obama’s administration “will not waver in its commitment to provide those defense articles and services necessary for Taiwan’s self-defense.”
But he stopped well short of telling the US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, this week just what specific weapons systems would be offered.
Gregson didn’t mention the 66 F-16C/Ds that the Taiwanese military is anxious to buy from Washington. The closest he came to addressing the issue was to offer the generalized “commitment” promise.
“I’m sure many of you here tonight are quite eager to know more about what our administration considers to be the right tools for Taiwan,” he said.
Gregson, who went out of his way to emphasize the word “right,” said that he was not going to deal with the issue in detail.
“True and lasting security cannot be achieved simply by purchasing the next gleaming piece of advanced hardware. A defense strategy is most effectively implemented when you have the right tools. Taiwan’s defense strategy will therefore be most effective when its resource decisions are driven by a clear sense of its defense objectives and the most efficient means to achieve these objectives,” he said.
A senior military analyst in Washington said later that it was impossible to gauge from Gregson’s speech how the White House would handle Taiwan’s weapons requests.
On the one hand, Gregson seemed to be positive and ready to boost Taiwan’s military, but on the other he said nothing that might alarm Beijing ahead of Obama’s planned trip to China next month.
The analyst, who spoke on strict condition of anonymity, said that he did not expect any announcement on the F-16s before early next year.
The annual three-day meeting — organized by the lobby group US-Taiwan Business Council — focused on US-Taiwan defense and military cooperation and Taiwan’s defense and national security needs.
“A strong Taiwan will be less susceptible to coercion or intimidation and better able to engage the PRC [People’s Republic of China] with confidence. A strong Taiwan will be free to expand cross-strait economic, cultural and political ties without fear or reservation, and therefore everyone in the region — including the PRC — should view a strong Taiwan not as a threat but as a stabilizing force,” Gregson said.
“As a result of the PRC’s rapid economic growth and military modernization, Taiwan will never again have the luxury of relying on quantitative advantages over the PRC. Instead, Taiwan must look to its qualitative advantages through focusing on innovation and asymmetry,” he said.
“Taiwan should seek out new initiatives that will be more expensive for the PRC to defeat than they will be for Taiwan to employ. Asymmetry will not replace a layered defense or defeat PRC forces, but it can deter them from fully employing the advanced weapons they are developing and undermine their effectiveness,” he said.
General Chao Shih-chang (趙世璋), deputy minister of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, told the conference that the only way to sustain the easing of cross-strait tension was to maintain defensive capabilities.
“We do have expectations for assistance that could be provided by friends and allies as new challenges that we have never faced before, [that will] emerge along with the many tasks of defense reform,” Chao said.