[Speaking Out] U.S. regrettable failure to invite Taiwan to RIMPAC exercise

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Taiwan was not among the participants in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise between June 29 and August 4, as recently announced by the United States Navy.

The US Defense Authorization Act of 2022 prompted the Joe Biden administration to invite Taiwan to the biennial naval exercise. In 2020, then-Taiwanese Defense Minister Yen De-fa expressed Taiwan’s willingness to participate in the exercise. This is why I regret that Taiwan was not invited this year.

The failure of the United States to invite Taiwan is also very regrettable from Japan’s military point of view.

The Japan-Taiwan naval exchange is only possible within a multilateral framework. It is impossible for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force to hold a bilateral joint exercise with the Taiwanese Navy in the current political environment.

If the United States invites the Taiwanese Navy to participate in a multilateral exercise like RIMPAC, however, the JMSDF and the Taiwanese Navy will have a very good chance during the exercise of establishing real-time communications via data links.

The Taiwanese Navy’s Kidd-class destroyers “Keelung” (left) and “Su’ao” in December 2005.

The Taiwan Navy has, as capital ships, four Kid-class destroyers delivered from the United States and eight Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates produced by Taiwan under American license, which have Data Link-11 to share real-time tactical images. Most JMSDF destroyers are also Link-11 compatible ships.

If the US Navy provides common cryptography, then the Taiwanese Navy and the JMSDF can share information such as the positions of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy amphibious assault ships. This would mark a significant advance from a military point of view.

I remember when the JMSDF was first allowed to participate in RIMPAC in 1980, the JMSDF had the opportunity to take part in a multilateral exercise that had been a taboo for the SDF, making a breakthrough by approving the exercise of the right of collective self-defence which had been interpreted as unconstitutional.

If under an American Republican administration

What would have been the decision of the United States on Taiwan’s participation in RIMPAC if it had been under a Republican administration instead of a Democrat?

In 2014, the United States invited the PLA Navy to participate in RIMPAC under the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. Under Donald Trump’s Republican administration in May 2018, however, Washington cut off inviting the PLA Navy to RIMPAC. Randall Schriver, a China warmonger expert and now president of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank, was then assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs and China policy chief at the Pentagon.

In 2018, the Trump administration allowed Taiwanese military officers studying at military, naval and air academies to wear military uniforms. Given the above, a Republican administration could have made a different decision than the Democratic Joe Biden administration.

The National Defense Strategy 2022 fact sheet released by the Biden administration in late March 2022 called for increased deterrence against China. The decision not to invite Taiwan to RIMPAC may not be in line with the strategy.

(A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute of National Fundamentals, Speak #929, In English June 16 and in Japanese June 13, 2022.)

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Author: Fumio Ota

Fumio Ota is an advisor and member of the planning committee of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a retired Vice Admiral of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

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