US' arms sales to Taiwan impede Sino-US relationship

By Xiao An
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 17, 2013
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 [By Jiao Haiyang/]

 [By Jiao Haiyang/]

The United States plans to provide a new round of arms sales to Taiwan between 2013 and 2015, according to U.S. Senator James Inhofe while on a recent visit to Taiwan on January 8, 2013. Senator Infohe met with Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-Jeou during his visit.

The arms sale will reportedly include 30 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, 60 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile batteries, according to the co-chairman of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, who further inferred that many congressmen also support F-16C/D fighter sales to Taiwan. This batch of ordnances is due to be completed by 2015, and will total US$10 billion, according to present market prices.

Mr. Inhofe’s GOP background makes it difficult to predict White House policy, an administration headed by Democratic President Barack Obama. But it is reasonable to believe that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, an issue that has troubled the Sino-US relationship for decades, will continue.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan during Obama’s eight years in office (2009-2017) will account for one-third of total arms sales to Taiwan since China and the United States established diplomatic relationship in 1979. Obama is the only U.S. president to twice approve arm sales to Taiwan.

Beijing is fully aware that Washington is acting based on the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, a law backed by complicated implications that include assisting Taiwan’s defence affairs, containing the Chinese mainland and preserving U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. also knows that arms sales to Taiwan have rendered obsolete the U.S.-China Communiqué (August 17, 1982), in which the United States declared it "does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan" and that "the United States acknowledges China's consistent position regarding the thorough settlement of this issue."

However, the U.S. claims ignorance of this declaration, and fails to honor its own pledges while violating norms in international relations.

The China-U.S. relationship has developed to a higher level, whose significance has grown beyond its 1979 starting point. The U.S. hopes to see a stable bilateral relationship as much as China does.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan not only directly harm China’s essential interest, but also impede U.S. strategic interest over the long run. They are also one of the main sources of anti-U.S. sentiment in China and mistrust between the two countries. They will ultimately obstruct bilateral cooperation and increase the risk of military confrontation.

The balance of military strength across the Taiwan Strait has been a primary reason for Washington to justify arms sales to Taiwan. But the past few years have seen a remarkable improvement between the two sides and the cross-Strait situation is now easing. And the U.S. leadership has openly and explicitly expressed its support to a stable cross-Strait relationship.

U.S. insistence on arms sales to Taiwan will be detrimental to the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, and violates U.S. policy.

From China’s point of view, its military along its southeast coast are entirely internal affairs, and are only against separatist forces, not against the people of Taiwan. As early as January 2009, China’s Ministry of Defense noted that all military deployments in China are meant to preserve the fundamental interest of the nation and the state. "The adjustment to these deployments will also be judged according to the situation’s development," said Colonel Hu Changming, spokesperson of the MOD.

Despite creating a huge obstacle that prevents the development of China-US relations, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan remain a complex problem. The United States will not draft policies to fit China’s essential interest, nor will China abandon its interests just to preserve its relationship with the U.S.

But every problem has a solution.

Some U.S. scholars have proposed a variety of solutions, such as breaking down large scale arms sales into small pieces, gradually reducing U.S. commitments to Taiwan’s defense affairs, asking China to write off U.S. debt to trade off arms sale suspension and even promoting Taiwan’s Finlandization. These trends have not yet taken hold in the U.S., and some seem ridiculous to China.

However marginalized as they appear, these ideas all lead to one fact: The times have changed, and China is growing, meaning that the U.S. ought to review its Taiwan policies so as to better suit its future global strategic framework.

The United States also needs to realize that Taiwan is no longer an unsinkable aircraft carrier, and that China will step up its defence modernization and prevent the country from breaking apart.

The United States cannot count on China to accept its arms sales even if they are broken into smaller components, or that China will soften its attitude, because to China and the Chinese people, any issue that touches sovereignty does not allow external intervention.

The only thing that the U.S. can do is to return to the Communiqué, and in the foreseeable future reduce arms sales to Taiwan. Only then can the China-US relationship develop in a stable and smooth manner.

This article was first published in Chinese and translated by Chen Boyuan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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