Taiwan President Urges U.S. to Release F-16s
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou urged the U.S. to release F-16 fighters and submarines during a speech May 12 at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
New arms will allow Taipei to negotiate with Beijing on "equal footing," he said. "This is why I continue to urge the U.S. to provide Taiwan with necessary weaponry … to keep its aerial and naval integrity intact, which is key to maintaining a credible defense."
China has not renounced the use of force to reunify Taiwan despite improved ties since Ma won the presidency in 2008. Taiwan has adopted the "one China, respective interpretations" under the "92 Consensus" in an effort to better relations with Beijing, Ma said.
Improved relations also resulted in the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2010. To dispel domestic criticism of closer ties with China, Ma has a stated "Three-No's Policy" of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force."
Though Ma has made an effort of "never rocking the boat" and implementing "full consultation" with the U.S. on Cross-Strait discussions, the U.S. is still reluctant to provide Taiwan with new arms.
In 2001, the Bush administration promised Taiwan eight diesel electric submarines, but the deal has been held up by a combination of political and manufacturing hurdles. Taiwan's request for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters for $5.5 billion and a $4.5 billion upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters has been on hold since 2007 and 2009, respectively.
Part of the reason for the delays, analysts say, are punitive actions taken by Beijing following arms releases totaling $13 billion in 2008 and 2010. China ended military-to-military dialogue with the U.S. and threatened to retaliate economically after each release. The effort appears to be paying off. China and the U.S. just concluded the third Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Washington last week where China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Qian Lihua, director of the Foreign Affairs Office with the National Defense Ministry, said Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff, would meet with Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a visit to Washington from May 15 to 22. Qian was quoted by the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency on May 12 that a "new type" of China-U.S. military relations based on "mutual respect and reciprocal beneficial cooperation" was on the horizon.
Qian said there were three obstacles to improved Sino-U.S. military ties: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, frequent reconnaissance by U.S. naval ships and aircraft in Chinese waters and airspace, and restrictions imposed by U.S. domestic laws on military exchanges and technical cooperation.
Qian said the U.S. must modify or abolish the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, the "DeLay Amendment" and the 1990-91 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which set limits on military ties with China.
Chen's visit to Washington could be the catalyst for change, said Zhu Feng, a security analyst at Beijing University's Center for International and Strategic Studies. "He might be the right person for the U.S. to take more seriously to get mil-to-mil" back on track. However, it would be unwise for the U.S. to hobble Chen's efforts with new arms sales to Taiwan, he said.
"They are hoping to build 'strategic trust' and move the ball down the court somewhat on long-standing issues of contention," said a U.S. defense analyst who specializes on China. Discussions during the S&ED for improved military ties could cost Taiwan its security blanket, said a Taiwan defense source. As China and the U.S. move closer strategically, Taipei loses its ability to negotiate with Beijing from a position of strength, he said.