Recently, the military relationship between Taiwan and France has attracted attention as it's been reported that France will close down its military liaison office within the French Institute in Taipei, which means cutting off the official military communications.
Taiwan has more military engagement with the U.S. than France, which is because arms purchases between Taiwan and the U.S. are always brazen. Although the French government has a firm stance against Taiwanese independence, the ambiguous military relationship between the two has endured, yet now it appears this relationship has begun to deteriorate.
Relying on a large number of foreign-arms purchases, Taiwan can easily manipulate the distance between U.S. and European countries' policies toward Taiwan. Early in 1970s and '80s, Taiwan and France had some secret military cooperation. Since the '90s, Taiwan employed a strategy of "pull France to push the U.S.," which effectively heated up the military relationship between Taiwan and France.
Normal military channels were established, and France sold six Lafayette frigates to Taiwan in 1991 and 60 Mirage fighters in 1992. In recent years, the bond has been breaking primarily due to arms-purchasing scandals.
The "Taiwan Goal" case was one such scandal. Exposed in 2008, it is considered a significant factor in altering Taiwan and France's military relationship. The Taiwan Goal company was set up by the Chen Shui-bian's government in January 2008. It appeared to be a civilian arms company operated by Taiwan's department of defense and other companies. In fact, it was Chen's private asset geared toward pocketing the entire arms business in Taiwan. After the case came to light, Taiwan's military administration believed the relationship between Taiwan and France would be halted for at least 10 years.
The Lafayette case further deteriorated the military relationship. On May 3, 2010, the International Court of Arbitration ordered France to pay US$861 million to Taiwan over unauthorized commissions paid in order for the company Thomson-CSF (now known as Thales) to win a deal to sell six Lafayette frigates to Taiwan for US$2.5 billion in 1991. This abruptly froze the military relationship between the two.
The military liaison office within the French Institute in Taipei has endured for 15 years. Although with limited staff, it has played a vital role in Taiwan and France's military communication, including promoting bilateral military exchanges and assisting Taiwan with arms purchases. If it indeed closes, the official military channel between Taiwan and France will be cut off.
Although Ke Kuang-yeh, deputy secretary-general of Taiwan's "National Security Council", claims there are alternatives for logistical support for its French-made arms, it's obvious Taiwan has damaged itself by its overreliance on foreign arms.
The author is a researcher studying Taiwan's military and politics for years.
(This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Lin Liyao.)