should sell arms to Taiwan
Globe, March 17, 2001
James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara
VICE PREMIER Qian Qichen, China's top foreign-policy official,
comes to Washington tomorrow to meet with President George
W. Bush, his not-so-hidden agenda will include pressuring
the administration into refusing to sell Taiwan certain
president should resist Chinese pressure. Furthermore, he
should reverse the unofficial moratorium on arms sales to
Taipei imposed by Bill Clinton. Because of US neglect, the
Taiwanese military has remained frozen at a 1980s technological
level - or worse, in some cases - while China has embarked
on a weapons buying spree that has tilted the balance of
the help of a cash-starved Russia, the Chinese military
has obtained front-line fighter aircraft, surface warships
armed with missiles able to sink even America's warships,
never mind the dilapidated Taiwanese navy, and diesel submarines
capable of encircling Taiwan and strangling the island's
thriving economy, which relies overwhelmingly on seaborne
ominously, Beijing has rapidly built up an arsenal of ballistic
missiles to menace the island. A 1999 Pentagon report -
corroborated by subsequent satellite intelligence - predicted
that China would position some 650 short-range missiles
across the Strait from Taiwan by 2005. The Chinese military
threat is real.
is not, however, trying to build up an armada of amphibious
transports to resolve the Taiwan issue the old-fashioned
way - by ferrying an invading army across the Strait and
conquering the ''renegade province.''
need to. Beijing's main purpose is to deal Taipei a crippling
psychological blow. Chinese strategists have sought to develop
forces able to dispatch the Taiwanese navy and defeat the
Taiwanese air force. Next they would use their military
supremacy to impose a blockade and bombard the civilian
infrastructure with ballistic missiles.
end? This carefully calibrated strategy is calculated to
make Taiwanese citizens acutely aware of their vulnerability.
Beijing believes Taiwan's public, conscious of its hopeless
military plight and starved of trade - its economic lifeblood
- might simply give in. The Chinese are convinced that a
demoralized population would exert political pressure on
Taipei to enter negotiations leading to reunification with
the mainland - on terms entirely to Beijing's liking.
must not allow China to entertain such illusions.
rough military parity between the beleaguered island and
the colossus across the Strait would show the Chinese they
will be unable to impose a settlement forcibly. Equally
important, this would embolden Taiwanese citizens and allow
them to withstand the Chinese psychological onslaught. Prospects
for a peaceful settlement satisfying both sides would brighten
selective American military support, carefully tailored
to blunt China's strategy, is crucial to buoy Taiwanese
morale and allow Taipei to pursue a negotiated settlement
in its own time. Indeed, this prudent approach already enjoys
strong bipartisan support and was codified in the 1998 Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act.
parts of the Taiwanese arms wish list should the Bush administration
agree to? The United States should sell the island defensive
weaponry to counter China's air, naval, and ballistic-missile
threats. Washington should deliver the stockpile of advanced
medium-range air-to-air missiles already sold to Taipei,
sell four retired Kidd-class multi-role, guided-missile
destroyers, upgrade Taiwan's anti-ballistic-missile batteries,
and provide long-range ground-based radars that can detect
of these weapons would delude Taiwan into thinking it can
win an all-out war with mainland China. It can't. And no
sane Taiwanese statesman would be reckless enough to bet
the survival of his country on an armed clash - the inevitable
outcome of a declaration of independence.
US weaponry would be adequate to demonstrate to Chinese
leaders that they too will be unable to settle the dispute
would be forced to realize - grudgingly, to be sure - that
its only option was to continue the painstaking process
of working out a diplomatic solution to the Taiwan question.
R. Holmes, a former US Navy surface warfare officer,
and Toshi Yoshihara, a China specialist at the Institute
for Foreign Policy Analysis, are PhD candidates at the Fletcher
School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.