The last time the U.S. sold weapons to Taiwan ($6.4 billion worth in January 2010) led to China suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S.. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who also chairs Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, has subsequently said in public the weapons sale was a mistake. In the news again, looks like Obama is approving the sales of upgrades to Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 jet fighters. As expected, China is warning strong reaction if any sort of deal going through. (See “Backlash expected if US seals arms deal.”)
While the U.S. has the Taiwan Relations Act, she is also bound by the August 17 Communique signed by Reagan in 1982 whereby arms sales to Taiwan will gradually diminish and completely phase out. For more on China’s perspective on this issue, I highly recommend this article by Tao Wenzhao, a researcher at the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University.
The latest narrative in the Western media is that Obama not selling new and advanced jetfighters to Taiwan. Therefore, the U.S. is actually caving into China’s demands by going so far as selling upgrade kits only. That view is apparently held too by the Greenies according to this article:
The Formosan Association for Public Affairs said Taiwanese-Americans were deeply disappointed over reports that Obama had decided against selling the F-16C/Ds, the Taipei Times reported.
“It is regrettable that the Obama administration is letting the PRC [China] set the terms for U.S. relations with a democratic Taiwan,” FAPA president Bob Yang.
“[Taiwanese] President Ma [Ying-jeou] has gone through the motions of requesting the new F-16C/Ds, but has not been serious about Taiwan’s defense, allowing the defense budget to wither and Taiwan’s capabilities to deteriorate.”
Well, I should add, according to Greenies in the U.S.!
But, the truth is, things for the public is very unclear. According to this research paper, U.S. actions and policies on this issue cannot be viewed as those from an ‘actor.’ Rather, they are results of bureaucracies and contention of different perspectives – in secret. The public and media can only speculate. The paper said:
While discussing the issue of US arms sales to Taiwan, Patrick Tyler, former New York Times Bureau Chief in Beijing, said, ‘The decision on arms sales to Taiwan was made after secret deliberations among Pentagon and State Department (hereafter: State) bureaucrats using criteria that had never been publicly disclosed or vetted. The full measure of American military assistance to Taiwan was classified “secret”, as if the American public could not be trusted to know how deeply involved the US was becoming with Taiwan’s military’
So, unless the Chinese and American governments make public their conversations for us mere mortals, we will have a hard time gauging the direction this issue is heading. We buzz off or sit around and speculate.
For now though as Tao Wenzhao said, selling weapons to Taiwan undermines strategic trust between U.S. and China. This is at the people level too. See this Open Letter from a Chinese netizen to President Obama after the 2010 weapons deal was announced.
The U.S. media also likes to push this narrative that the weapons are to guard a ‘vibrant democracy’ from threats from the Mainland. That is nonsense. Given China prizes peace and stability for her own development, there is no reason for China to threaten Taiwan. The only circumstance would be Taiwan declaring independence. Hong Kong is a ‘vibrant democracy’ too and arguably even closer. It functions just fine without any outside weapons sale to it.
I’d add, such narrative is the media propagandizing for the arms dealers. Such is also taking a separatist view towards the Taiwan issue.