US-Taiwan council risks Beijing’s anger by inviting Taipei minister to defence industry conference
Business group ignores mainland China’s warnings as Yen Teh-fa could become first Taiwan defence minister to attend event in a decade
Taiwan’s defence minister Yen Teh-fa has been invited to take part in the US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference this October.
The move is certain to irk Beijing, which has warned Washington and other countries against having high-level military exchanges with the self-ruled island.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, which organises the event, confirmed to the South China Morning Post that the council has invited Yen to the event.
If Yen accepts the invitation, he will be the first defence minister from Taiwan to take part in the event since 2008.
The US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference 2018 will be held between October 28 and 30 in Annapolis, Maryland.
It will be the 17th edition of the annual event which, according to the council, is intended to address future US cooperation with Taiwan, the defence procurement process and Taiwan’s security needs.
This year, the conference will open with a discussion on Taiwan’s role in the US Indo-Pacific strategy, and look at how Taiwan can increase regional engagement on defence and national security issues, it said.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must eventually be reunited with the mainland and has not ruled out the use of force to do so. It has also stepped up the pressure on the island in recent months, conducting military exercises and tightening the diplomatic squeeze on Taipei.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was still deciding who would attend the conference.
But a Taiwanese military source said that Yen was expected to accept the invitation, given that it was a good chance for him to exchange views directly with US officials and congressmen.
“Actually, during a parliamentary session in May, he told legislators if he was invited, he would consider going,” the source said.
If Yen does attend, he is expected to make a keynote speech on Taiwan’s strategic role in the Indo-Pacific, according to the conference agenda.
While the council has yet to announce which senior official will represent the US, it has announced that speakers will include delegates from the Department of Commerce, arms companies such as BAE Systems and Raytheon Company and several think tanks.
Hammond-Chambers said the council has invited defence ministers from Taiwan to attend the event every year since 2002.
“Taiwan’s ministers of defence have attended the conference in the past,” he said.
Taiwan sent then defence minister Tang Yao-ming to attend the 2002 event and in 2008 Chen Chao-ming led a delegation.
In other years junior ministers and defence officials have attended.
Analysts said Taiwanese defence ministers have generally stayed away from the event due to the likely response from Beijing, which could cause unnecessary problems for the US.
Edward Chen I-hsin, professor of political science at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said technically speaking the invite for Yen this year is in line with the 2019 US National Defence Authorisation Act and serves to facilitate high-level military exchanges between the two sides.
“In the wake of the escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing, the invite can be seen as Washington playing the Taiwan card to try to force concessions from Beijing,” he said.
According to the act signed by US President Donald Trump on August 13, the Secretary of Defence should promote exchanges that enhance the security of Taiwan.
These should include opportunities for practical training and military exercises with Taiwan.
They also include exchanges between senior defence officials and military officers that are consistent with the Taiwan Travel Act – a law signed by Trump earlier this year to allow high-level official exchange visits with the island.