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Taiwan, PRC and the U.S.: Playing Their Games

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Developments in cross-strait relations over the past few years have attracted widespread attention. On the one hand, cross-straits trade and commercial ties are expanding and deepening, while on the other hand, Taiwan faces increasing political and security challenges. Occasional rises of security challenges affect both domestic and regional stability.

 

 

The coming decade will prove critical in the competition between the U.S. and China for a leadership role in East Asia. The U.S. would essentially be shooting itself in the foot if it turned away from Taiwan and going toward China. Furthermore, Beijing's offer to consider adjusting its deployment is vague and largely empty. The U.S. outpaces China in terms of sea and air power by at least 20 years, leaving it likely unmoved by the proposal for deployment shifts. Even so, rumors such as this one are a reminder that Taiwan must give appropriate attention to its relationship with the U.S. -- at least as much as it does to its relationship with China (Apple Daily, August 22, 2013).

 

How does Taiwan respond to the competition although tensions across the Taiwan Strait have gradually eased? President Ma Ying-jeou said that his administration will continue to procure weapons from the United States to safeguard national security. "Although tensions across the Taiwan Strait have gradually eased and cross-strait relations are now the most peaceful in more than six decades, we still cannot afford to be lax in terms of combat readiness," Ma said at a ceremony on the outlying island of Kinmen. The president arrived in Kinmen earlier in the day for a ceremony to mark the 55th anniversary of an artillery battle between the Republic of China military and communist Chinese forces (CNA, 23 August 2013).

 

Ma said he had determined that recent media report of a plan by American and Chinese defense officials to set up a joint task force to deal with issues of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan was not true.
"That conclusion was reached after checking the report through different channels," the president added.

 

Ever since the United States established formal diplomatic ties with mainland China, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have always been an issue between the U.S. and mainland China in their relationship. Thus, there was the August 17 Communiqués in 1982 to deal with the issue. Over 30 years from 1982 to today, the United States has sold weapons of a defensive nature to Taiwan based on the Taiwan Relation Act. These weapons sales are in fact helpful for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait; they enable Taiwan to improve relations with the mainland while maintaining a defensive capability.

 

In 1982, the then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan offered Taiwan six assurances, which included that the U.S. will not set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan; will not alter the terms of the TRA; and will not consult with China before making decisions about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. The TRA, the U.S. law regulating relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, stipulates that the U.S. is obligated to provide Taiwan with arms necessary to defend itself.


Ma said the United States issued Six Assurances in 1982, in which it promised not to set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan and not to consult with China before making decisions about U.S. arms deals with Taiwan.

 

Chinese media reported that the U.S. Department of Defense had given a "positive response" to a proposal by Beijing for the formation of special joint panel to address major stumbling blocks to U.S.-China military ties, especially on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

 

When asked to comment on the report, Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said there is no change to the United States' policy on arms deals with Taiwan. "Consistent with U.S. commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability," Psaki said during a daily press briefing. "We believe this longstanding policy contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," she added (CAN, 22 August 2013)

 

The TRA, the U.S. law regulating relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, stipulates that the U.S. is obligated to provide Taiwan with arms necessary to defend itself.

The U.S. government reaffirmed its commitment under the TRA to sell weapons to Taiwan, a policy that it said is favorable to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Psaki said there is no change to the United States' "one China" policy, which is based on the three joint communiqués with China and the TRA.

 

China has been pushing for military modernization in recent years and has not renounced the use of force against Taiwan, the defense ministry noted. Taiwan's strong self-defense capability is conducive to cross-strait peace and gives Taiwan the ability to negotiate with China on an equal footing, the ministry said. The defense ministry said it believes that the U.S. will help Taiwan to improve its self-defense capabilities.

 

Since President Ma first took office in May 2008, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have reached US$18.3 billion, which indicates strong mutual trust, the MND said. Touting his administration's efforts to improve relations with China over the past five years, Ma said cross-strait relations are now at their most peaceful. "But it does not mean that our country is free of security threats," he said. "We must not relax our combat readiness and will continue to purchase U.S.-built weapons that we still cannot produce on our own."

 

Taiwan needs to negotiate with China from a position of strength. It needed new fighter jets to modernize its fleet, and also upgrades to its existing class fighters, which are aging and in need of replacement parts.

 

 

By Mohammad Anthoni - alumni Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy

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