I wrote an article here at BlogCritics in August wherein I questioned the United States’ wisdom in selling “billions of dollars” worth of weapons to Taiwan, consistent with The Taiwan Relations Act which requires the U.S. to provide the tiny island nation of Taiwan with weapons for defense. Taiwan lies a short distance across the Taiwan Strait, formerly called the Formosa Strait, from mainland China. Since I wrote that article, Chinese/Taiwanese relations have taken an alarming downturn. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates blames the new tension on American politicians, as opposed to the US Military. Gates has made the statement that military relationships should not be held hostage to what is “essentially a political decision.”
My position in August was that since there was no ongoing hostility between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, there was no requirement for the weapon sale. China indeed has declared that force against Taiwan would only be considered if Taiwan should declare formal independence. China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan, since a hard fought civil war in 1949, during which Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists escaped to the island. China for many years has claimed an option that they may reunite mainland China with Taiwan. The United States has said it will protect Taiwan; that promise played a major part in the contentious weapon sale. In May, 2010, President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan said the island will never ask the United States to fight against China on its behalf. “We will continue to reduce the risks, so that we will purchase arms from the United States, but we will never ask the Americans to fight for Taiwan, this is something that is very, very clear.”
The substantive fact is that China and Taiwan have in recent years enjoyed increasingly good relations. Longstanding trade tariffs have been lifted; commerce between the nations has much improved. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between trade representatives from mainland China and Taiwan was signed in late June, bringing with it new, improved ties across the Taiwan Strait. The nations formulated a 16-part act to “…gradually reduce and remove trade and investment barriers and create a fair environment.”
The other side of the coin remains intact; the people of Taiwan feel an ongoing pressure from China — they feel a daily threat to their well-being. One commenter to my earlier article said that China has 1500-2000 missiles pointed at Taiwan and has threatened to use military force time and time again. “Taiwan’s only enemy is China”, he wrote. “I don’t understand how anyone can say Taiwan doesn’t have an enemy.” The commenter felt that at any time 23 million Taiwanese people are endangered by Communist missiles. He concluded, saying that Taiwan has not asked the U.S. to fight China. Taiwan wants only to buy weapons from the U.S. to protect the 23 million people who “practice democracy and support human rights — the same values Americans support.” Reliable sources confirm that China has some 1400 missiles ready to pummel Taiwan at short notice.
The weapon sale went forward. It is noted that neither submarines nor fighter aircraft were included. Since that sale, Chinese relations with America have taken a significant turndown. Retaliatory measures for the sale include sanctions against American companies who produced or supplied the arms. Beijing has canceled military exchange programs. A planned visit to China by U.S. Defense Secretary Gates in June was canceled. The United States is charged with “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs. Guan You Fei, deputy head of external relations with China’s defense ministry stated that the biggest obstacle in defense relations between the U.S. and China is U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
This brings us to October of 2010. The sale of weapons, long completed, is still being discussed and Sino/Taiwanese relations have nose-dived. Secretary of Defense Gates met with his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, during an Asian Security Forum in Hanoi on Oct. 11, 2010, this, 10 months after the weapon sale. In the course of the meeting Secretary Gates stated his position that the sale was not a military decision. He blamed the disconcerting issue on the U.S. Congress; on political leaders. He disavowed any role of the American military in the decision. “If there is a discussion to be had, it is at the political level,” Gates said. Did domestic political issues play a part in this important decision process?
Now, the situation has exacerbated, perhaps encouraged by the receipt of the America weaponry. A news story dated October 13, 2010, says Taiwan has begun development of a system of drone aircraft; Yu Sy-tue, spokesman for Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu, said the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology near Taipei, an institute run by the Taiwan military, has started research on drones aircraft. Reports surfaced that Taiwan is taking steps to acquire one or more Global Hawk high altitude drones, and a number of new fighter jets from the U.S.
As news of the Taiwanese interest in drone aircraft surfaced, China immediately suggested that military talks were in order. A news story from Beijing relates that China has called for these talks on military issues with Taiwan, based on the issue of the development of unmanned surveillance aircraft. Yang Yi of the Taiwan Affairs Office on mainland China issued a statement: “We advocate conducting contacts and exchanges on military issues, including the cross-straits military deployment issue, in a proper way at a proper time.”
But Taiwan sees the situation differently. They will not participate in such talks until China removes the 1400 missiles — the “military deployment targeting Taiwan.” The Mainland Affairs Council in Taiwan tells of a “widespread and solemn demand by Taiwan people”. They go on to say, “We must keep our self-defense capability, to keep a healthy and stable cross-strait relationship, on the condition that our safety is not threatened.”
As a result of a questionable weapon sale by the United States Congress the world is now less stable. China and Taiwan are at odds. Taiwan seems to be moving toward self regulation in spite of a potential for conflict. China, until these decisions were made, was increasingly tolerant of the United States, and potentially valuable talks were in the offing. We must consider, does Taiwan seriously consider escalation of new tensions, or is this a thinly veiled ploy for talks and the hope for more security with the removal of the offending missiles?
These sales to Taiwan have been going on for decades. Maybe the U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan is outdated, and no longer consistent with real matters in the real world. America is in a phase approaching ‘isolationism’ in regards to defense issues. The cost of liberating Iraq, the difficulty in policing Afghanistan, have proven a burden in lives and dollars. Then is this not a time to reconsider the recurring sales of arms to Taiwan? We see that these sales involve vast amounts of money; is that money being wasted, or worse, is it creating global unrest? The American Congress might do well to consider these matters in a non-political light. America’s ties to China, each nation seeking to be the world leader in sophistication, economics, and moving toward the future, are indeed at an important juncture.