U.S. Arms Expected To Flow to Taiwan
Black Hawks, PAC-3, Sub Study Among Delayed Programs
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIWAN — Long-delayed sales of U.S. weapons to Taiwan may soon start moving ahead, U.S. government officials and defense industry sources say.
In coming months, the Obama administration is expected to notify Congress about the potential sale of various arms promised by the George W. Bush administration, including UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, the remainder of a Patriot PAC-3 missile-defense package, an initial submarine design study, and the second phase of the Po Sheng C4ISR/Link 16 program, according to U.S. State Department and U.S. Defense Department sources.
In 2011, items “to watch for” include six C-27J cargo aircraft, two signal intelligence aircraft and two mine-hunter vessels, a U.S. government official said.
But Taipei’s outstanding request for 66 F-16C/D Blk 50/52 fighters, on hold since 2006, would be a “red line” that Beijing would not tolerate, said a U.S. defense analyst in Washington.
Taiwan has also expressed an interest in replacing its aging AT-3 advanced jet trainer with the South Korean-built T-50 Golden Eagle trainer, but Beijing would be expected to pressure Seoul to kill the deal.
There may be no need for trainers. U.S. officials have been reluctant to approve the sale of new F-16s to Taiwan.
“Since the United States needs China’s help on many issues, sale of F-16s will become highly unlikely,” said Joseph Wu, former de facto Taiwan ambassador to the United States.
“But some sales, such as Black Hawks and additional PAC-3s, may be forthcoming because the U.S. wants to show to the Taiwan people that it remains committed to its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. When China is still speeding up its military deployment against Taiwan, the overall trend is not in Taiwan’s interest.” China’s opposition may deter future sales, and the United States’ $800 billion debt to China does not help its negotiating position.
“China’s rise and U.S. growing debt has made Washington hesitant to sell F-16s to Taiwan,” said Arthur Ding, a cross-Strait specialist in Taiwan.
Yet Washington is also concerned about the warming ties between Beijing and Taipei, which have improved since the Beijingfriendly Nationalist Chinese Party won legislative and presidential elections in 2008.
“China’s new Taiwan policy gives China enough of an excuse to pressure the U.S. not to sell F-16s to Taiwan because China is to adopt ‘peaceful means’ to deal with Taiwan, a condition anticipated by the U.S.,” Ding said.
Wu said China is expected to announce in 2010 a cut to the 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan. Any decision by Beijing is a “good publicity stunt by China” and “will create pressure on Taiwan not to seek more arms and on the U.S. not to make any further sale,” he said.
There are growing concerns that cross-Strait agreements will spin out of Taiwan’s control. China and Taiwan are moving quickly on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which has been widely criticized by opponents as financial capitulation to Beijing.
“The cross-Strait relations seem to be moving in a direction that Taiwan is not able to slow down or control any more,” Wu said.
That concern is shared in Washington. Interdependence with China could become an asymmetrical threat to Taiwan, said a new brief released by the Center for a New American Security in December.
Authored by Abraham Denmark and Richard Fontaine, the brief, entitled “Taiwan’s Gamble,” suggests Taiwan and the United States should “establish a joint analysis group to plan for Taiwan’s defense in light of contemporary financial, political, and military realities.”
“The United States should push for the establishment of such a group and insist that it review how any new emphasis on asymmetric capabilities in Taiwan should affect arms sales that are already in process,” the brief stated.
A Taiwan defense source said the proposal could reduce U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and redefine U.S. strategic interests in the Taiwan Strait.