The critical importance of U.S. arms sales to Taipei.
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In the meantime, the U.S. should permit arms sales that enable Taipei to maintain a military deterrent just as China is building a deterrent to America. Taiwan is wealthy, but falling further behind the PRC in overall economic strength. Thus, Taipei should not “try to match the PRC ship for ship, plane for plane, or missile for missile,” as the Washington-based Taiwan Policy Working Group observed. Rather, Taipei should build a small but deadly force capable of exacting a high price from any attackers.
Last year’s weapons package included Harpoon and Patriot missiles, mine-detection ships, Blackhawk helicopters, and communications equipment. Washington put off any decision on advanced F-16s and diesel submarines. But Taiwan is now pressing for the fighters and subs.
The Obama administration should say yes.
China might retaliate diplomatically. But empowering Taiwan is worth risking tenser relations with the PRC. After all, arms sales do not put America and China on a path to war. Rather, they create a disincentive for Beijing to consider war as an option, irrespective of Washington’s perceived willingness to intervene.
Moreover, while U.S.-Chinese ties may be warming, Beijing remains recalcitrant on important issues like North Korea. Indeed, the North’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il has made another visit to the PRC, his third in a year, presumably to beg for more aid.
Indeed, China has been expanding ties with Pyongyang even as the latter has provoked South Korea almost to war. Beijing also subsidizes other pariah regimes, such as Burma and Zimbabwe. The PRC is determined to pursue what it perceives to be its national interest. So should the U.S.
Ultimately, a reasonable accommodation between China and Taiwan is more likely if Taipei possesses the ability to defend itself. Of course, Taipei should not be purely reliant on America. Then its security will depend on the vagaries of politics in Washington as well as the state of U.S.-Chinese relations. Noted Liu Yu-jiun of Taiwan’s Fo Guang University: “If you put too much emphasis on imports and something goes sour between importer and exporter, you end up with an empty hand.”
Taiwan recently deployed its third generation of Brave Wind anti-ship missiles. Taipei also is considering production of the Hsiung Feng-2E ballistic missile. Even a small strategic deterrent would force the PRC to hesitate before threatening Taiwan.
Ultimately, Washington’s objective in helping enable Taipei to defend itself is to ensure that the latter never actually has to do so. Peace is in the interest of Taiwan, China, and the U.S. Washington should promote a good relationship with the PRC. But the U.S. should view continuing arms sales to Taipei as perhaps the best means to maintain stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait.
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