July 21, 2008
By John J. Tkacik, Jr. and Gary Schmitt
The Bush administration had blocked nearly $16 billion in U.S.
arms transfers to Taiwan.
Now, the policy has become to derail sales, U.S. Pacific
Commander Adm. Timothy Keating told a Heritage Foundation Forum on
Wednesday. News reports quoted him as saying decision-makers "have
reconciled Taiwan's current military posture, China's current
military posture, and strategy that indicates there is no pressing,
compelling need for at this moment arms sales to Taiwan of the
systems that we're talking about."
The list of military hardware being held up includes eight
diesel submarines, 66 F-16 Block 50/52 fighter aircraft, four
Patriot PAC3 fire units (384 missiles), 30 Boeing-made AH-64D
Apache attack helicopters and 60 UH-60 Blackhawk utility
These are all items that the Bush administration has approved in
principle for export to Taiwan - and for which Taiwan's legislature
has appropriated the funds or put down payments.
And to make matters more incomprehensible, the F-16s would bring
40,000 man-years of additional employment in North Central Texas -
especially Fort Worth - in Bush's home state. In a tough economy,
this is not only bad policy but bad politics.
Taiwan is under new management. President Ma Ying-jeou, who took
office May 20, was elected on a platform that promised to improve
Taiwan's relations with China while at the same time preserving
Ma's election is credited, in some measure, to the Taiwanese
electorate's sense that the Bush administration was deeply
dissatisfied with Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian.
It was Chen who did his utmost to maintain Taiwan's separate
identity from China but, in so doing, was seen by the White House
as causing unnecessary frictions with Beijing at a time when the
U.S. had its hands full internationally.
Now, however, as Ma engages Beijing frontally with new
initiatives across the Taiwan Strait - unlimited investment, full
trade, an influx of Chinese tourists into Taiwan, arrangements for
Taiwan-China currency transactions - he lacks the single most
important asset needed to negotiate successfully with Beijing: a
strong military defense.
Ma and his representatives in Washington have asked the Bush
administration to notify Congress of the sales as a sign to Beijing
that Taiwan can still count on American support should things in
the Taiwan Strait turn sour. Just recently, Ma reiterated his
government's desire to move forward on buying the weapons.
Taiwanese Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng plans to underscore
his country's anxieties in a Washington visit next month. "No one
person is capable of guaranteeing peace if we haven't enough
strength to defend ourselves," he warned in recent remarks. "It is
a very dangerous state of affairs. From this perspective, while we
improve ties with mainland China, it is even more imperative that
we strengthen ties between Taiwan and the United States and Japan
[and] how to utilize the U.S.-Japan security framework to
strengthen Taiwan's security is a matter that absolutely cannot be
With Taiwan willing to finance its own defense, it is very hard
to see what the problem is. In fact, the Bush administration is
required by law under the Taiwan Relations Act to "make
available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in
such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a
sufficient self-defense capability."
There is no one in the Bush administration who believes that
Taiwan's "self defense capability" is sufficient in the face of the
on-going military build-up by the Chinese directly across the
Part - if not all - of Bush's reluctance to approve military
sales for Taiwan stems from his hesitation to irritate Beijing.
First, the president didn't want to give Chen any policy
successes before the Taiwan elections. After that, he didn't want
to approve arms because that might irritate Beijing during
negotiations over North Korea's nuclear programs.
Then, Bush didn't want to upset China before his meeting with
Chinese President Hu Jintao at the G-8 summit in Japan. For the
next few weeks, it will be too close to Bush's planned attendance
at the Beijing Olympics.
As retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former U.S. Commander in the
Pacific, put it, "pretty soon they'll have the whole calendar
blocked out. So there is never a good time for the arms sales."
In effect, the Bush team has increasingly allowed Beijing to
exercise a veto over U.S.-Taiwan policy. Whatever short-term gains
this might bring to U.S.-China relations, it bodes poorly for
keeping peace in the region.
Such an approach will only fuel Beijing's own ambitions and
sense of entitlement when it comes to Taiwan and, equally
important, do nothing to reassure our democratic allies in the
region that we have a balanced but firm approach when it comes to a
John Tkacik is senior
research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Gary Schmitt is
resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public
Policy, both in Washington.
First appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Not long after becoming president in 2001, George Bush said he would do "anything it takes to help Taiwan defend herself." But when he leaves office in January, he will have created a situation that seriously undermines that pledge.
John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Senior Research Fellow
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