Sunday, October 4, 2009

$12B in Taiwan Arms Deals Suspended for Talks



$12B in Taiwan Arms Deals Suspended for Talks


TAIPEI — When the news broke that the U.S. government had suspended about $12 billion in congressional notifications for new arms for Taiwan, it rattled local military leaders and their supporters in Washington.

The action apparently violated the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which guaran­tees defensive arms sales to Taiwan, and con­tradicted the spirit of the 1982 Six Assurances, which assures Taiwan that Washington would not consult Beijing on arms sales.

But U.S. officials were acting on the request of the self-governing island’s new Chinese Na­tionalist Party government, who feared that ongoing arms negotiations might jeopardize talks with Beijing, the first in more than a decade. Nevertheless, there is no indication when the suspension might be lifted; some predict it will last into the next U.S. presiden­tial administration.

Sources in Taipei say the KMT government asked Washington to suspend arms sales for the duration of the talks, which began June 12 and whose most immediate concern is estab­lishing direct cross-straits charter and airline flights.

“The [KMT] administration, given the un­foreseen governing difficulties encountered at home so far, eagerly needs achievements on the weekend chartered flights and mainland tourists, both requiring Beijing’s cooperation,” said Lin Chong-Pin, president of the Taipei­ based Foundation on International and Cross­ Strait Studies. “Once the KMT makes the first scores, it can worry about the arms sales lat­er, which do not seem urgent for the moment, at least.” But some fear the freeze could last until a new U.S. administration takes office in January.

“This could become a watershed event for future arms sales to Tai­wan,” said Mark Stokes, the Pen­tagon’s country director for China and Taiwan from 1997-2004.

If the freeze is still on when Congress breaks in October, Stokes said, the notifications could be delayed until the next White House administration takes office. “It’s the law of physics. Once you lose that momentum, it’s nearly impossible to get it back,” he said. The freeze affects submarine ­launched Harpoon missiles, the de­sign phase for eight diesel electric submarines, four Patriot PAC-3 mis­sile batteries, 30 AH-64D Apache at­tack helicopters and 60 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters. The freeze also includes the release of price and availability data for 66 F­16C/D Block 50/52 fighters for an additional $5 million.

Much of this was originally promised by Bush in 2001, but blocked by political bickering in Taiwan until 2007.

Earlier this year, the KMT swept legislative and presidential elec­tions, sweeping the pro-independ­ence, prone-to-bungling Democra­tic Progressive Party (DPP) from power.

“KMT’s priorities, though not of­ficially stated, appear to be first, economic growth, which is predi­cated on good relations with the mainland; second, political digni­ty; and third, military security,” said Lin, who served as a former Taiwan deputy minister of de­fense.

“The March 22 presidential election could be viewed as an unannounced referendum on the prioritization of long-term nation­al goals. The order listed above was the result.” The KMT swiftly launched a dia­logue with Beijing about direct flights. Weekend direct charter flights for tourists are expected to begin in July, and are likely to ex­pand into daily regular flights with­in a year. By the end of 2009, Tai­wan expects some 3,000 mainland visitors a day.

President Ma Ying-jeou has dis­cussed economic and peace ac­cords openly with China within five years and promised there would be “no arms race with China.” This would ease cross-strait ten­sions but could also lead to the end of U.S. military support for Taiwan. Beijing is likely to demand that Taipei tie itself closer to the mainland and end military-to-mili­tary relations with U.S. forces.


Sources in Taipei and Washing­ton say pro-China advocates in the U.S. government, dubbed the “Pan­da Huggers,” have lobbied to dis­rupt U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

One U.S. government official said officials in the U.S. Embassy in Bei­jing, the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. State Department are conspiring to kill arms sales to Tai­wan. Some want to open Chinese markets to U.S. firms, some want to save the Six Party Talks with North Korea by placating China, and some are laying foundations for private business deals after they leave gov­ernment, the official said.

“When we allow our activities with China to influence our deci­sion on arms sales to Taiwan, this is, in effect, a consultation. Beijing has learned that trick: Bait the Americans with some promises, then make the Americans wait for the delivery of those promises while the Americans hold up arms sales to Taiwan. Sounds like a winning game plan for China. Unfortunate­ly, it is a lose-lose for the U.S. and Taiwan,” the U.S. official said.

Ma plans to continue pursuing U.S. arms after the talks with Bei­jing; F-16s are on the top of the list. But the “new government needs time to review major policy guide­lines based on Ma’s ‘Hard Rock’ de­fense concept,” said one source close to the Ma government.

“There exists an atmosphere of ‘one customer at a time’ in the gov­ernment,” he said. “They want to focus the energy on managing the resumption of regular cross-strait dialogue, as this is Ma’s first prior­ity and deliverable. Most of the top officials I’ve talked to insisted that they will thoroughly debrief the U.S. government regarding cross­ strait progress, and remain com­mitted to 3 percent GDP defense spending and continue defense procurements from the U.S.”

However, there are fears Ma will not be able to please both pro-Taiwan elements in Washing­ton and pro-unification forces in Beijing. The result could alienate both parties, leaving Taipei even more isolated.