November 25, 2015 Bloomberg View has published an article by Josh Rogin, a columnist, entitled “U.S. Preparing New Arms Sales to Taiwan“.
Bloomberg has got a reputation of a solid Company, which has not yet been noticed in publication of articles in chase of a simple splash or in spreading of false information, not worthy any serious attention.
That is probable why there was an immediate official (and negative) reaction from the Ministry of Defence of China. Although text by Josh Rogin was accompanied by a note, necessary in such cases, that the opinion of the author does not ‘necessarily’ reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
The trustworthy edition has touched such a serious problem for China – the problem of Taiwan status de jure and de facto. It would hardly be an exaggeration to compare it with a years-long running sore that only since Year 2008, when Kuomintang Party came back to power, became gradually skinning over and fading somewhat by other challenges of China.
Currently everyone is talking about the situation in the South China Sea (SCS), for which, incidentally, Taiwan itself is a northern “border”. On the background of escalating conflict in SCS between the two leading world powers, Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait recently seemed to be almost an backwater. Current Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and his party Kuomintang observe at least the decorum in the relationship with the “Mainland”, not claiming for the status of an independent state, de jure (and being satisfied with the de facto independence) that by now is fine with Beijing.
However, the upcoming presidential elections in January 16, 2016 almost certainly would be won by the current leader of opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen that so far said nothing on the intention to continue the observance of the aforesaid ‘decorum’ in relations with the “Mainland”.
Therefore, Taiwan stated to get into the focus of view of those monitoring the developing situation in the area of the new ‘Balkan’ of the modern world (which today also include the Korean peninsula, the islands of the Senkaku / Diaoyu and SCS). The aforesaid article will contribute also as it touched the most sensitive aspect of the Taiwan issue, due to the US-Taiwan military and technical cooperation.
Following the evolution of relations between the US and China, its form and volume changed over the time.
Up until the early 1970-s, that is during the period of the most severe US-China confrontation, Taiwan played a role of the unsinkable US aircraft carrier and the armed forces of Kuomintang were on full American supply.
In the process of implementation in the 1970-s of strategy of Henry Kissinger on the use of the Soviet-Chinese controversies for the benefit of the US, the United States had to make important concessions to China with respect to Taiwan issue. In 1979, Washington and Beijing have established diplomatic relations, but the Americans still have never abandoned Taiwan to the whims of fate.
Also in 1979 the US Congress has passed the basic document – Taiwan Relations Act (TRA-1979), which, with some additions, still governs the format of relations between Washington and the island. Among other things, the said document provides for an opportunity to supply US “defence’ armaments to Taiwan.
This opportunity was used by the United States more than once, and that, along with the rapidly increasing capabilities of its own industry, allows to equip the Taiwanese armed forces with the modern weapons.
According to some estimates, the latter still keep the potential to solve their limited task of provision of two…three weeks (before the US, and, possibly, Japanese, support will arrive) of military resistance to the hypothetical invasion of PLA to the island. It is if Beijing decides that there is no reason to expect ‘positive’ solution of the Taiwan issue from Taipei any longer, and it’s time to move on to the “not peaceful” methods.
However, in recent years in the United States and Taiwan there are more and more voices raised that against the background of rapid modernization of PLA the reliability of the Taiwanese defence capabilities is questionable, and it is necessary to resume to supply the American armaments to the island in order to maintain it.
The two most recent US-Taiwan arms deals occurred in Years 2010…2011. Their total amount exceeded $12 billion. It was one of the largest US action on selling of weapons to the Allies. Although the Taiwan’s request for supply of American arms was far from being fully satisfied (thus, in order not to quarrel with China irreparably, it was denied to supply 66 ea of F-16 fighters of the latest modifications), the list of services provided to Taiwan leaves a strong impression. Especially, apparently it does for Beijing. Among others, special attention should be paid to the supply of several of theatre missile defences Patriot PAC-3, as well as to modernization held for existing Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 nearly “up to the level” of the latest modifications.
These transactions were concluded when illusions about the possibility of forming a coordinated US-China world affairs management course (in the framework of the so-called ‘G-2 concept’) have finally collapsed; and political relations between the two leading global powers began to acquire a clearly competitive (to put it mildly) character.
And now, at the period of exacerbation of the US-China relations in connection with the situation in SCS, the author of the article in Bloomberg View, citing unnamed ‘official source’ reported that administration of President Barack Obama has taken a principle decision on sale (for the first time within the last four years) of the US arms to Taiwan for the amount of $ 1 billion. This supposedly will be announced in the second half of December this year. Date of official publication of the decision was apparently chosen so, as not to create unnecessary problems for the US President at the Conference on Climate Change in Paris, which was also attended by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
In addition, this date should not be too close to the day of the upcoming elections in Taiwan, as that the US decision shall not look like an indirect support of any of the candidates.
A letter of Senators Ben Cardin and John McCain to President of the United States, published on November 19th, in which it was proposed to discuss the issues of increasing the capacities of “self-defence of Taiwan, including through the armament sale” may serve as an evidence that data published in the above mentioned article is not just idle speculations of the author. At the same time the senators referred to the relevant provisions of TRA-1979.
Finally, prospective list of weapons that may become a subject of a future transaction, could also be interesting. More precisely, what is likely would not appear in the list. As it was said in the BloombergView article, F-16 fighters of the latest modifications again would not be present in the armaments ‘menu’ to be offered by the US to Taiwan. The question of their potential sales to Taiwan is an important element of the ‘red line’ in the US-China relations, crossing of which is seen by Beijing as a sign of irreversibility of the process of degradation of relations with the US.
Meanwhile, the tradition of Washington’s foreign policy is to allow the opponent to make a geopolitical ‘last step’ in this process (as it was, for example, before the beginning of World War II).
And for the US to stay ‘unspotted’. Though, it is not more than simply from the image or propaganda point of view.
If the indicated above format of the upcoming US-Taiwan arms deal is true, then it will not drop out of this tradition.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.