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Arms Sales to Taiwan Benefits No One

Arms sales by the United States to Taiwan will jeopardize the interests of both sides. The sales takes away a large amount of money that could otherwise be used to improve Taiwanese people's living standards.

In the last two decades, the Taiwan authorities have spent more than US$48 billion on weapons and military equipment. That sum does not include the island's expenditure on introducing military technology, conducting military research, and building military projects.

Out of every US$1 worth of imports to Taiwan, 55 cents worth are for ammunition and related equipment and technology, according to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies.

In the past decade, weapons sold to Taiwan amounted to 10 times the amount sold to the Chinese mainland. The island purchased one-10th of the nearly 3,000 F-16 and Mirage fighters produced during that period.

From 1994-2000, it imported weaponry worth over US$15 billion, accounting for 11 percent of global sales in that period.

On average, each Taiwanese person pays US$540 for Taiwan's arms, which is the highest in Asia. Even in Japan, which has been frantically building up its military strength over recent years, the figure is just US$370.

Statistics from the Taiwan authorities show that, in 1998, the island spent NT$82.4 billion (US$2.5 billion) on military expenditure. In contrast, investment in economic and social development was only NT$78.2 billion (US$2.4 billion). This year, Taiwan's military budget increased by 6.7 percent.

The economy on the island has taken a bumpy road since "president'' Chen Shui-bian took office last year.

Many enterprises have moved to other regions. The unemployment rate and consumption price index have continued to rise.

According to Taiwanese statistics, by the end of last year, its debt surplus amounted to a daunting NT$3.8 trillion (US$115.4 billion), accounting for 38.3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

Its fiscal deficit now makes up 5.2 per cent of GDP, well above the international warning line of 3 percent. In its banking sector, there are NT$1.3 trillion (US$39.5 billion) in bad loans.

To deal with these economic problems, the Taiwanese authorities will have to spend heavily in coming months. For example, reconstruction projects after the earthquake in September, 1999 alone need NT$150 billion (US$4.6 billion) of investment.

Despite the economic difficulties, the Taiwanese authorities still stubbornly pour large amounts of money into their military build-up.

Arms buying will cost the island dearly. It may be able to maintain this purchase momentum in the short term. But in the long run, it will be difficult for its economy to shore up its swelling arsenal.

And even after the island gets advanced weapons, can it block the reunification process?

Behind the wild military procurement is the Taiwan authorities' mentality of whistling in the wind. By buying military hardware, it wants to complicate the situation by drawing the United States into the cross-Straits bust-up.

The United States is ambivalent in its attitude towards arms sales to Taiwan.

With a view of maintaining Taiwan's status quo of neither being reunited nor claiming independence, the US likes to sell weapons to the island. But it also fears that its involvement in the affair may jeopardize its own interests.

Such a possibility is high.

The United States will definitely lose more than it will gain if it continues to sell weapons to Taiwan.

Thirty years ago, Sino-US trade volume was merely US$50,000. It rocketed to about US$74.5 billion last year.

China has become the fourth largest trade partner of the US. And investment by US companies in China has grown by a yearly rate of 25.4 percent. By 2000, US investment in China totalled US$28 billion.

It is estimated that by 2005, US exports to China will double to US$44.6 billion. It means 1.5 million jobs can be created in the United States.

In the 21 years between 1979 and 2000, however, US arms dealers received US$41 billion from arms sales to Taiwan. The US could also pay a heavy political price.

It is crystal clear which direction will properly serve the basic interests of the United States.

If the US continues selling weapons to Taiwan, the regional situation will become tense, which makes it hard for the Chinese mainland and Taiwan to solve the reunification issue through talks.

The negative effect of a worsening situation will spill over to affect the US economy, which is not doing its best at the moment.

Some US politicians have realized the seriousness of the matter.

Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, warned the Bush administration not to treat China as a potential adversary.

The final solution of the Taiwan question that takes into account the interests of all parties will lie in Taiwan's acceptance of the one-China principle, not the swelling of its arsenal.

This is not just China's story. Admiral Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, admitted last year that the security of the island will not be secured by weaponry, but the improvement of the cross-Straits relations.

(China Daily 04/23/2001)

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