In a surprise move to some, the United States reactivated a $6.46 billion Taiwan arms sales proposal and sent it to Congress for approval yesterday. (As late as September 28, the proposal was said to be frozen by the White House even as Taiwan lobbied Congress.)
Some Chinese now believe China and Wen Jiabao were “played” by the US: “Premier Wen had just said to save the US markets, out came $6 billion of arms sales as a slap to the face,” reads a typical comment online.
According to a now deleted article in the Caijing news magazine, the package of six contracts include 330 Patriot III missiles, 30 Apache attack helicopters, 4 pieces of E2T recoinnaissance plane upgrade parts, 32 Harpoon missiles, parts for F16 and F5 E/F fighters, and 182 anti-tank missiles. The package does not include submarines, Blackhawk helicopters, and F16 C/D fighter jets, which Taiwan also sought originally.
The article continues by speculating on the behind-the-scenes:
Congress has 30 days to discuss the issues. If Congress does not object, then the proposal gets implemented. A US official intimated that there may be further weapons sales, but not of submarines.
There have been rumors before that the US was unsatisfied with Ma Yingjiu’s closer stance to the mainland, and therefore delayed the approval of the arms sales. US Pacific Fleet Commander Keating even said the sales might be frozen, so Taiwan worried that the sales would have to wait till the next administration.
A high level US official told the Financial Times of UK that the reason the White House decided to go ahead with the sales to Taiwan is to show that the US has reinstated the “robust, effective, and active” relationship with Taiwan, but at the same time did not want to break the positive direction of the cross-Strait development. So the arms package was reduced in scope. Another former high level official said, this package is not too large and not too small. However, some Washington pundits worry that this action will surely anger the mainland, and the US-China cooperation on the Korean nuclear issue may be affected as a result.
While the government of China issued the usual statements in what seems like a routine exercise, some people have become increasingly unsatisfied with the ineffectual nature of China’s foreign policy on the US vis-à-vis Taiwan and in general, seeing it as failure:
While the echoes of Premier Wen’s words at the UN exhorting the world to stand with the US and save the markets still ring, the US government announced $6 billions worth of arms to Taiwan … As one who loves my country, I don’t understand China’s foreign policy and Taiwan policy. For decades, the US repeatedly used arms sales to play the Chinese on the two sides … why does our mainland government not have any effective means to check the US government’s thuggish behavior? These things happen time and time again; does it mean that we Chinese, or the Chinese government, is really a weak pushover?
America has no doubt made some clever calculations. Using arms sales to Taiwan, she can constrain the mainland’s development and get huge political profits from the Strait issue, and can extort money from the mainland using the Taiwan card … Are Chinese really that stupid?
Another voice thinks people should be more realistic about China’s current abilities:
A mature politician, a mature government, always should do only what they are capable of, and leave to words what they can only say. They do not repeatedly announce to the world about what they are capable of, nor do they actually do those things that can only remain words.
It’s difficult to discern the reasons for the timing of the arms sales. With Ma Yingjiu’s approval in the tanks even after Chen Shuibian put himself away by his own scandals, did Ma try to revive some of his credibility in Taiwan? Or, is this diplomatic blackmail by the US to get China to pony up some bailout money? Is the US concerned about losing influence in the Taiwan Strait and wanted to strike a tone before the next administration?