Tai­wan arms sales a lin­ger­ing ir­ri­tant

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By CHEN WEI­HUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

US arms sales to Tai­wan has long been a ma­jor ob­sta­cle in de­vel­op­ing smooth bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween China and the United States, even as cross-Strait re­la­tions be­tween Bei­jing and Taipei have re­cently be­come the best since 1949.

In the Aug 17, 1982 China-US Com­mu­nique, the US agreed to grad­u­ally re­duce its arms sales to Tai­wan. How­ever, over the years the US has con­tin­ued to use the 1979 Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act and the 1982 Six As­sur­ances — treaties the Chi­nese govern­ment ob­jected to — to jus­tify the sales. of US-made Apache at­tack he­li­copters in Tai­wan.

China has long called on the US to ob­serve the One-China pol­icy and the three China-US joint com­mu­niqués, es­pe­cially the prin­ci­ples spec­i­fied in the Au­gust 17 Com­mu­niqué, which turns 42 years old on Sun­day. China has long re­garded US arms sales to Tai­wan as an in­ter­ven­tion in China’s in­ter­nal af­fairs and a vi­o­la­tion of China’s sovereignty.

De­spite the grow­ing ex­changes be­tween the two mil­i­taries in China and the US in re­cent years, Chi­nese officials have de­scribed US arms sales to Tai­wan, along with the US mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance off China’s coast and the Con­gres­sional laws that re­strict mil­i­tary ex­changes with China, as three ma­jor ob­sta­cles hin­der­ing a bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship.

Ac­cord­ing to a US Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port re­leased in June, US arms trans­fers to Tai­wan have been sig­nif­i­cant de­spite the ab­sence of a de­fense treaty or a diplomatic re­la­tion­ship. Tai­wan has ranked among the top re­cip­i­ents of US arms, the value of de­liv­er­ies of US de­fense ar­ti­cles and ser­vices to Tai­wan to­taled $4.3 bil­lion in the 2004-2007 pe­riod and $2.9 bil­lion in the 2008-2011 pe­riod.

Ni­cholas Platt, a long-time US diplo­mat who went to China in 1972 on Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s historic trip, said the US govern­ment ne­go­ti­ated the 1982 doc­u­ment in good faith.

The doc­u­ment was the re­sult of eight months of con­tentious ne­go­ti­a­tion to ad­dress the sen­si­tive is­sue in order to avoid a col­lapse of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

“It’s one of the fun­da­men­tal doc­u­ments of our re­la­tion­ship, and hasn’t been ful­filled in ev­ery way,” Platt said.

“But it was a gen­uine doc­u­ment,” said Platt.

Platt praised both the Chi­nese govern­ment and Tai­wan leader Ma Ying­jeou for their ef­forts to bring the two sides closer to­gether in re­cent years. Cross-Straits ex­changes have flour­ished. Trade be­tween the Chi­nese main­land and Tai­wan reached $197.3 bil­lion in 2013, up 16.7 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

Platt agreed that US arms sales to Tai­wan are “ob­vi­ously an is­sue”, but he be­lieves the im­proved cross-Straits re­la­tion­ship has made it less of a prob­lem now.

Richard Bush, a se­nior fel­low and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for East Asia Pol­icy Stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, be­lieves the Chi­nese main­land’s de­mand that the US end arms sales to Tai­wan is con­nected with its quest for uni­fi­ca­tion.

“Deng Xiaop­ing’s as­sump­tion, which I don’t think has ever been over­turned, is that arms sales ob­struct uni­fi­ca­tion ei­ther be­cause they re­duce the in­cen­tives for Taipei to ne­go­ti­ate with Bei­jing or they en­cour­age pro­po­nents of Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence,” he said.

Bush be­lieves the best way for Bei­jing to achieve its po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tive is to make its of­fer more at­trac­tive to the Tai­wan pub­lic, cit­ing con­cerns about the grow­ing ca­pa­bil­ity of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army and the one coun­try, two sys­tems pro­posed by the Chi­nese main­land.

Tom Watkins, an ad­vi­sor to the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute and eco­nomic and busi­ness en­ti­ties in Detroit and the state of Michi­gan, de­scribed the re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and the US as com­pli­cated and frag­ile when it comes to Tai­wan.

“We have wit­nessed many bumps along the way in the most im­por­tant bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in the world to­day — be­tween the US and China. Yet, both coun­tries have been able to weather all storms,” he said.

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