Apr 13, 2011

Taiwan: Taipei Seeks to Move U.S. on Arms Sales

With Washington getting more close to China, Taiwanese defence forces staged a high-profile military exercise this week to pressure the US to stick to its security commitments

Below is an article published by The Wall Street Journal: 

Taiwan's air force landed fighter jets on a stretch of highway in the island's south, an exercise that analysts said was partly aimed at drawing attention in Washington to the island's stalled requests for advanced weapons. 

The first drill of its kind in nearly four years comes amid growing concern in Taiwan that the U.S. is favoring its relations with China over its security commitments to Taiwan. 

China still views Taiwan as a rebel province and has ratcheted up its protests against U.S. weapons sales to the island to the point where the issue threatens the entire bilateral relationship. Ties were frozen last year after U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the sale of $6.4 billion in arms, including missile systems and utility helicopters. 

An armed US-made F-16 fighter takes off from the highway in Tainan, southern Taiwan, during a drill Tuesday. Taiwan has requested new F-16 fighters from the U.S., but that request has been pending since 2006. 

Taiwan's request for new F-16 C/D fighters has been pending since 2006, and upgrades to its aging fleet of F-16 A/Bs, which were sold in 1992, have been on hold since 2009, according to a Congressional Research Service report released in February. Washington also is stalling on Taiwan's long-standing request for diesel-electric submarines. 

"The drill shows the administration is trying its best to get F-16 C/Ds, but we already know what to expect from Washington—it will be very, very quiet, to the point of being cold," said former Taiwan Deputy Defense Minister and current professor at Tamkang University, Chong Pin Lin. 

"After a year of tense relations, Washington and Beijing are currently enjoying a smooth ride, and Washington values that to the point that when the Taiwan issue comes up, it doesn't want to rock the boat," Mr. Lin said. 

Turning a section of the Sun Yat-sen Highway into a landing strip was part of the annual Han Kuang defense exercises that simulated a surprise attack on Taiwan's air bases this year. 

Military analysts said the high-profile exercise also was intended to demonstrate president Ma Ying-jeou's commitment to Taiwan's military strength, amid criticism he has thawed relations with China too quickly. Since his election in 2008, trade and travel have flourished across the Taiwan Strait. But with more than 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan, China's attitude toward the island remains bellicose. 

"What we're seeing is policy drift at the moment. The Obama administration is drawing a peace dividend before peace has broken out," said U.S.-Taiwan Business Council President Rupert Hammond-Chambers. He added that "the weaker the U.S. policy, the more likely it is to support Chinese [military] adventurism." 

Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said she didn't think the U.S. was neglecting the Taiwan relationship and cautioned against viewing the U.S. commitment to Taiwan solely in terms of weapons sales, in particular, large and controversial hardware such as F-16s and submarines. 

"It has become very controversial as to whether or not this [F-16 C/D sale] is the right capability for Taiwan," she said. "The question is not whether or not we should continue to defend Taiwan, just what is the most effective way to do that." 

She added she expected upgrades to Taiwan's F-16A/B fighters to proceed before Taiwan's presidential elections next year. She said the weapons sales would likely come with inclusion of Taiwan in an extradition agreement and a visa-waiver policy, to recognize President Ma for pursuing policies such as a recent economic agreement with China, which the U.S. supports. spokesman for the American Institute in Taiwan, the unofficial U.S. embassy, said U.S. defense representatives were observing the Han Kuang exercises, as part of routine interactions with Taiwan. The spokesperson also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to sell arms to Taiwan for its defense under the Taiwan Relations Act.