Josh Rogin reports on the maneuvering in Washington over whether to sell F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan; Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has put a hold on the nomination of Bill Burns for a deputy secretary of state to pressure the administration on the issue:
Cornyn’s hold on Burns’s nomination has been in place since June 23, and it doesn’t look like he will remove it any time soon. Cornyn likes Burns personally, his staff told The Cable, and he thinks Burns is right for the job, but Cornyn is using his power to hold up the nomination as leverage to force the Obama administration to do two things: release a long overdue report on Taiwan’s air power capabilities to Congress, and finally acknowledge the Taiwan government’s letter of request to buy 66 F-16 fighter planes from the United States.
Cornyn has a mercantilist interest in this; the bulk of F-16 manufacturing and assembly takes place in Texas (although related jobs are spread over 44 states), and if there are no new orders soon the F-16 line is scheduled to be shut down in October 2013, with new orders for parts slowing down as soon as the end of the year. The State Department is apparently trying to change Cornyn’s mind by offering other defense jobs for Texas, but a staffer for Cornyn tells Rogin that won’t work:
“They seem to think we can be bought off with jobs on unrelated issues, but this is not a Texas parochial issue. This is about allowing the Chinese to have a veto over U.S. arms sales to anybody,” the staffer said. “That’s just unacceptable to let them do that, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Rogin’s reporting strongly suggests that, for the sake of relations with Beijing, the administration will do anything to avoid approving the sale. This is extremely shortsighted. Matt Anderson, a Pacific analyst at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, makes a very convincing argument that now is the perfect time for the sale to go through. If we wait until the F-16 line is shut down, the only option left for aiding Taipei in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act will be to sell Taiwan more sophisticated fighters, which would make Beijing even madder. The military leadership on the mainland is likely to change soon, so if China protests a sale by freezing military contacts now, the damage will be less than it would be later. Anderson lays out several other reasons, from the perspective of democratic politics in America and Taiwan as well as the internal politics of the Chinese Communist Party, why, in his words, “if it is in the interests of all involved parties to maintain the current tranquillity in the Straits, then it will actually be better to push through the sale of F-16s to Taiwan now, no matter how counterintuitive that may seem.”
This does not actually seem all that counterinituitive to me; it seems like a natural application of the principle of peace through strength. It’s probably too much to ask that the Obama administration fully internalize that principle, but it should not be too much to ask that they listen to the argument that Anderson makes on this specific issue.
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