The Profundity of US Arms Sales To Taiwan

According to the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, the Obama administration will sell weapons to Taiwan. If it does, then this sale would be quite an interesting one because there will be a hint of U.S.-China rivalry.

The Xi-Obama summit has just finished, and in it, President Obama mentioned a one-China policy based on the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act; not even a month has passed, and the U.S. is already selling weapons to Taiwan. In the same press conference, Obama also mentioned that Xi Jinping told him how to help maintain China’s complete unification. Obama could either keep his promise with the TRA to provide Taiwan with a social security program, or he could grant Xi’s request. No matter what, we have no way of knowing what will happen. As soon as the arms sales are formally announced, all will be revealed by Beijing’s reaction.

Arms Sales Convention Met with Heavy Challenges

Besides this, if we look at the arms sales convention, sales are usually made within six to 12 months of the president’s leave of office, which is pretty much the only possible time frame. We also have to assess the possible outcomes of Taiwan’s election.

The six- to 12-month time frame exists because Chinese communism has grown in recent years, so Beijing’s reaction to arms sales to Taiwan has grown with it, and the possibility of cooperation is gradually being compromised. To deal with this mounting intensity, America needs about a year just to balance things out and make the next president’s job easier. Of course, if the arms sales begin too soon, Obama would be giving himself trouble for the remainder of his time in office.

Besides, a new variable that is completely different from the past is the Taiwan election. Currently, Tsai Ing-wen, presidential candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party, is getting so much limelight that she might win; if she does, any U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will require meticulous surveillance, inspection, analysis and even response from the DPP. Lest we forget, when the U.S. sold weapons to Taiwan when Chen Shui-bian was in office, the DPP stated: “The U.S. should not be sending the wrong signals to Taiwanese independence forces.”

Moreover, with Tsai’s experience from Lee Teng-hui’s presidency to Chen Shui-bian’s presidency, Beijing must be careful about its restriction of, and reaction to, America, and also needs America to be careful about its response. Under these circumstances, arms sales to Taiwan can only become less likely; however it is perceived, all we can do is utilize the time that we have now.

However, what is equally peculiar is that America might sell $2 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan before Taiwan’s election next year. Though this news is still uncertain, it would actually be very bad for the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. An even more unusual situation is the DPP meeting with arms dealers in the U.S., because the relationship between politicians and arms dealers has always been a sensitive topic.

Also noteworthy is that along with the recent changes in the economy, there have also been changes in the membership structure of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. After Lee Teng-hui’s perseverance, then eight years of Chen Shui-bian’s “positive management, effective opening,” and the “Three Direct Links” not opening up, most formal U.S. businesses already invest directly in mainland China, so now the council mainly focuses on arms sales.

Arms Dealers Take Charge

Arms dealers have been attempting to influence and even lead sales in Taiwan. U.S. defense officials have been upset about this for a long time. The most famous example is when America assembled a Taiwan-U.S. arms sales conference two or three years ago, attended by Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang. The arms dealers dug too deep and U.S. defense officials gradually refused to meet again. As a result, the arms dealers and Taiwanese politicians actually dared to distort this news of America’s refusal by saying that it was the American officials who were dissatisfied with Taiwan’s policies. What’s more is that Taiwanese media report anything they want, regardless of how much of the truth they know.

In the end, the U.S. Department of Defense had had enough. On the second day, it dealt a blow to Taiwanese arms dealers and politicians. Ashton Carter, who was then U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense (now U.S. Secretary of Defense), bade a warm welcome to Minister Yang at the Pentagon, then posted their photo on the main page of the Defense Department website. Left up for several days, this photo struck back at those people. In the eyes of the U.S. government, because it is difficult to cope with the methods of Taiwanese arms dealers, it must push aside its current business tactics and think differently to achieve what it wants. There is just no closure yet.

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