Sunday, October 4, 2009

China Complains, Taiwan Celebrates After Arms Sale

Defense News


China Complains, Taiwan Celebrates After Arms Sale

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI - Despite China's growing political and economic influence, the United States went forward with one of the biggest arms sales in U.S.-Taiwan history, prompting complaints from Chinese leaders.

In part, it appears failed negotiations with North Korea and China's letdown on influencing Pyongyang swayed the arms release.

"The 11th-hour timing of the approvals coincides with Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill's departure from Pyongyang, which probably means that Hill did not give the go-ahead for the notifications until he was on the plane bound for Seoul," said John Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation, Washington.

"The hand-wringing of the past several days in the State Department revolved around Chris Hill's schedule... but over the past several weeks there was also a considerable amount of congressional interest, and some give-and-take on the details of the package. Not just between State and Defense, but also with Congress."

On Oct. 3, the United States released AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, Patriot PAC-3 air defense systems, Javelin anti-tank missile systems, submarine-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and F-16 and E-2T parts.

The $6.5 billion sale clearly upset Beijing with an official response by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao on Oct. 6 calling the sale a "violation of the principles set in the three Sino-US Joint Communiqués, Aug. 17 Communiqué in particular."

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned the chargé d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to complain.

"The U.S. should take immediate measures to correct its mistakes, cancel relevant plans to sell weapons to Taiwan, put an end to its military links with Taiwan, and stop disturbing the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, so as to prevent further damage to the Sino-U.S. relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," Liu said. "China reserves the right to make further reactions."

Despite the complaint, closer China-Taiwan relations have been moving rapidly since the pro-Beijing Nationalist Party (KMT) swept legislative and presidential elections earlier this year. Since Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou, took office in May, direct cross-strait air flights have already begun and further negotiations on confidence-building measures and a peace accord are expected.

Sources in Taiwan argue Ma needs the new arms to negotiate with China from a position of strength and there is always the potential for electoral reversal in 2012 when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could retake the presidency.

There have been complaints from the DPP that the KMT is quickly signing away Taiwan's future and scholars have been comparing efforts for closer relations with China as the "Finlandization" of Taiwan, a reference to Finland's relationship with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Taiwan's inventory of arms is diverse, with a mix of indigenous, French and U.S. weaponry. Taiwan's attack helicopters include the Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopters. The additional AH-64D helicopters will make a new Third Army Aviation Squadron.

There were efforts by Bell Helicopter to secure the sale of AH-1Z attack and UH-1Y utility helicopters for the Taiwan Army. Part of the deal included partial assembly of aircraft at the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC). However, Boeing won out with the Apache, but with no co-assembly deal with AIDC.

Taiwan's inventory of Harpoons includes both ship-launched and air-launched missiles. Taiwan has already procured the coastal suppression option for the Harpoons, which will allow Taiwan to strike land-based targets along China's coastline.

The PAC-3s will join older PAC-2 Plus batteries defending Taipei. In 2007, the United States approved an upgrade package for Taiwan's PAC-2s. Taiwan is facing about 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles, Dong Feng 11/15, from China. Sources argue the PACs will be little help against a multiwave saturation missile attack.

What was surprising about the recent arms release was the absence of UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters. Taiwan needs to replace its UH-1H helicopters, now more than 20 years old. Sources in Taiwan are suggesting the United States could pursue a civilian option, the S-70, which Taiwan has already fielded with its Air Force and Navy. Such an option would take the military tag off the sale. However, it is unlikely to placate China.

Of continued concern in Taipei is the failure of the U.S. government to accept a letter of request (LoR) for price and availability of 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52s. Washington has refused Taiwan's LoR for over a year. Taiwan needs new fighters to replace aging F-5 Tigers.

Taiwan has a mix of fighter aircraft, including F-16A/B Block 20s, Mirage 2000-5s, F-5 Tigers and AIDC's Indigenous Defense Fighters.