United States' arms sale to Taiwan may court trouble

Source: China Military OnlineEditor: Zhang Tao
2015-12-04 16:54

The Diplomat, a Japanese online magazine on foreign affairs, reported November 4 that Taiwan has recently confirmed its plan to purchase 10 MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters.

BEIJING, Dec. 4 (ChinaMil) -- The U.S. government may notify the congress later this month of its plan to sell one billion worth of weaponry to Taiwan.

The United States' arms sale to Taiwan has been an old topic in the China-U.S. relations and it pops up every once in a while.

Randall G. Schriver, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, once told to the media that it's "something that should have been done long ago", even saying that America should help Taiwan obtain submarine as soon as possible.

The Taiwan issue concerns China's core interests and China has been staunchly against America's arms sale to Taiwan. In the past, arms sale to Taiwan has exerted the worst impacts on China-U.S. relations, especially their mil-to-mil exchanges.

The U.S. sells arms to Taiwan according to its Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which holds that the U.S. doesn't have to consult with China and can "sell arms to Taiwan as long as it sees fit".

However, China's objection has taken effect. Generally speaking, America's arms sale to Taiwan in recent years has taken place at longer intervals and on a smaller scale. In fact, the last time the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan was in September 2011, more than four years from now.

It has been a while since America sold F16 warplanes to Taiwan last time. There have been negotiations about selling it submarines, but it never really happens. If the new arms sale is for the total price of one billion U.S. dollars, nothing cutting-edge equipment will be in the deal.

If the U.S. has a specific plan of cutting back on its arms sale to Taiwan, it's definitely better than scaling it up, and we should let the U.S. know that we "have noticed" the trend. But we have to keep in mind that the U.S. has never made such commitment in public, and increase in its arms sale to Taiwan is still possible.

The landscape of China-U.S. relations has seen changes in recent years, and the situation across the Taiwan Strait is no longer what it was.

The U.S. has been selling weapon to Taiwan on the grounds of "maintaining the military balance across the strait", but the military strength disparity across the strait has kept widening, and the PLA has formed overwhelming advantages over Taiwan.

So, no matter how many weapon the U.S. sells to Taiwan, it's impossible to re-establish the "cross-strait military balance".

Due to the huge disparity in economic scale across the strait, Taiwan, given its limited military budget, cannot afford any cutting-edge weapon system to compete with the weapon system of Mainland China.

By selling weapon to Taiwan, the U.S. is more interested in keeping the "political bond" with Taiwan while also making some money, and the deal is of ever smaller military significance.

Massive arms deals like the one in 1992 when the U.S. sold more than 100 F-16 warplanes to Taiwan will hardly appear again, and China is well positioned to prevent the U.S. from selling weapon to Taiwan on a large scale and prevent Taiwan from making super procurement that damages the cross-strait relation.

The time when the U.S. and Taiwan can conclude arms deals as they wish without paying heed to the mainland is gone.

In the long term, America's arms sale to Taiwan has to come down to zero because it reflects how sincere America is when it admits "One China" and measures to what extent America respects China's core interests.

China has more resources and means to game with the United States. Every time the U.S. sells weapon to Taiwan, even if it's just a screw for military use, China should make it pay and force it to eventually stop the sale once and for all.

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