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Politics & Security

[Speaking Out] Regrettable US Failure to Invite Taiwan to RIMPAC Exercise

The Biden administration’s 2022 National Defense Strategy calls for strengthening deterrence against China, so why did it exclude a key regional player?

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RIMPAC 2020.

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

The US Defense Authorization Act of 2022 had encouraged 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. For that reason, I regret that Taiwan was not invited this year. 

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

Japan-Taiwan naval exchange is possible only within a multilateral framework. It is impossible for the Japan 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 the RIMPAC, however, the JMSDF and the Taiwanese Navy will have a very good chance during the exercise to establish real-time communications through data links. 

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

The Taiwanese 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 US license, which have Data Link-11 to share tactical pictures in real time. Most of the JMSDF destroyers are also Link-11 capable ships. 

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

I remember that when the JMSDF was allowed to participate in the RIMPAC in 1980 for the first time, the JMSDF was given an opportunity to take part in a multilateral exercise that had been a taboo for the SDF, making a breakthrough in approving Japan’s exercise of the right of collective self-defense that had been interpreted as unconstitutional. 

If Under a US Republican Administration 

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

In 2014, the US invited the PLA Navy to take part in the RIMPAC under the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. Under the Republican Donald Trump administration in May 2018, however, Washington discontinued the invitation to the PLA Navy to the RIMPAC. Randall Schriver, a hawkish China expert and now chairman of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank, was then serving as assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, and in charge of China policy in the Pentagon. 

In 2018, the Trump administration allowed Taiwanese military officers studying at the Military, Naval and Air Force Academies to wear military uniforms. Given the above, a Republican administration might have made a decision that differs from the one made by the Democratic Joe Biden administration. 

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

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

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Author: Fumio Ota 

Fumio Ota is a councilor and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a retired Vice Admiral of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

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