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Tough Time Explaining Taiwan Policy

3:13 PM, Nov 17, 2011 • By GARY SCHMITT
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For those hoping to get a confirmable job in some future Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney administration, today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing is a good reminder of why it’s best to get that job earlier rather than later. Attempting to get confirmed for a position in an area that already has a legacy of policy decisions can be a tough business—especially when the policy is as flawed as the Obama team’s when it comes to Taiwan. 

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Just take a look at the grilling Sen. John Cornyn (R, Texas) gave Mark Lippert, nominee to be assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, this morning on Taiwan’s request to purchase new F-16 C/D aircraft. The senator from Texas starts by making a compelling case that Taiwan is in need of new fighters in the face of China’s military buildup and Taiwan’s own rapidly aging inventory of jets. And, by failing to provide those planes, the White House is ignoring the explicit statutory mandate of the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the U.S. to make available to the island what it needs to defend itself. With a weak policy hand to play, Lippert is reduced to repeating the usual bromides about “one China” and existing “communiqués.”

Cornyn’s closing question—“Why are we managing Taiwan’s defense budget?”—left Lippert with the quizzical, slightly dumbfounded look of “what the heck are you asking?” The senator then goes in for the kill: “When Taiwan is ready to pay cash for American exported military aircraft, why would we deny them that ability…is there any rationale you can see from either a commercial or national security perspective why we would deny Taiwan those aircraft?” Good question. To which Lippert and the administration have no answer—or at least one they are willing publicly to say. 

Worth watching: 

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