Arms sale to Tai­wan to re­sult in soured ties

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ling Shengli The author is sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity Study Cen­ter at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity. opin­ion@ glob­al­

The Pen­tagon said on Mon­day that the US State De­part­ment has ap­proved the pos­si­ble sale of spare parts for F-16 fight­ers and other mil­i­tary planes worth up to $330 mil­lion to Tai­wan, which fol­lows $1.42 bil­lion sales to the is­land ap­proved by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in June last year. The moves vi­o­late the one-China prin­ci­ple and the three Joint Com­mu­niqués is­sued by China and the US, a col­lec­tion of joint state­ments made by the two coun­tries in 1972, 1978 and 1982.

For a long time, the US has been us­ing arms sales to Tai­wan as an ap­proach to med­dling in the Tai­wan ques­tion, uni­lat­er­ally be­liev­ing that such sales can boost Tai­wan’s de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity and bal­ance the mil­i­tary strength be­tween the two sides of the Tai­wan Straits.

Since 1979 every US gov­ern­ment has sold arms to Tai­wan, dam­ag­ing China-US ties. The rea­sons be­hind the arms sales are com­pli­cated. They in­clude the lob­by­ing ef­forts from Tai­wan side, the in­ter­ests of US mil­i­tary en­ter­prises as well as the changed sit­u­a­tion of Bei­jing-Wash­ing­ton re­la­tions.

Not long af­ter he took of­fice, Trump was quite reckless when it came to the Tai­wan ques­tion. He said that the oneChina pol­icy could be a trad­able good in all China-US deals. This ap­proach could fun­da­men­tally shat­ter bi­lat­eral ties. Amid the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s strong protest and ac­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions, Wash­ing­ton agreed to honor the oneChina pol­icy af­ter pre­vi­ously plac­ing it in doubt. But Wash­ing­ton con­tin­ues to make trou­ble on the Tai­wan ques­tion. In March this year, Trump signed the Tai­wan Travel Act into law, which will break the re­stric­tions on US of­fi­cials’ vis­its to Tai­wan and in­crease US in­ter­fer­ence in the Tai­wan ques­tion.

The pro­posed $330 mil­lion sale is not a big sum com­pared with pre­vi­ous deals, but it comes with unusual sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance. Amid a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in Sino-US re­la­tions and cross-Straits re­la­tions, the arms sale to Tai­wan will def­i­nitely ag­gra­vate ten­sions. If the con­tra­dic­tions be­tween China and the US con­cern­ing mil­i­tary af­fairs and the Tai­wan ques­tion con­tinue to deepen, it will to some ex­tent dam­age bi­lat­eral ties. Mean­while, trade fric­tion be­tween the two coun­tries will be­come in­creas­ingly hard to re­solve.

Adopt­ing a risky at­ti­tude to­ward the Tai­wan ques­tion, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is still well aware of the red line. Wash­ing­ton is con­sciously ex­er­cis­ing re­straint in its arms sales to Tai­wan with­out sell­ing the ad­vanced weapons which the is­land de­manded. Yet per­sis­tent lob­by­ing ef­forts by Tai­wan, con­stant re­quests from US mil­i­tary en­ter­prises and un­ceas­ing hype by the US Congress are also prompt­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to sell arms to Tai­wan.

The harm of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Tai­wan pol­icy lies in a mis­cal­cu­la­tion of play­ing the Tai­wan card that will likely cause great dam­age to Sino-US re­la­tions. As a busi­ness­man-turned pres­i­dent, Trump is a vet­eran ne­go­tia­tor, who tends to com­bine dif­fer­ent is­sues to­gether on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. If he wants to pres­sure China on trade fric­tion through the Tai­wan card, that ap­proach won’t work. Tai­wan is a core in­ter­est of China. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment will spare no ef­fort in safe­guard­ing it. The US should be aware that if Wash­ing­ton over­plays the Tai­wan card, the Sino-US re­la­tion­ship may suf­fer heav­ily.

As far as cross-Straits re­la­tions are con­cerned, the real im­bal­ance is posed by eco­nom­ics rather than se­cu­rity. In­stead of help­ing Tai­wan de­velop its econ­omy, the US chooses to charge a pro­tec­tion fee to Tai­wan. The US is ob­vi­ously play­ing the Tai­wan card for its own sake. It is in the com­mon in­ter­est of both China and the US to main­tain Tai­wan’s sta­bil­ity. China strongly op­poses US arms sales to Tai­wan. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment will also take prac­ti­cal mea­sures cor­re­spond­ing to rel­e­vant US moves.

Since the end of the Cold War, no US gov­ern­ment has ben­e­fited much from play­ing the Tai­wan card. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should learn lessons and try to avoid risk­ing big losses for the sake of small gains.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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