Post- Wednesday, April 19, 2000 ; A26
CLINTON administration has reached its long-awaited decision
on arms sales to Taiwan, and it appears that the small democracy
off China's east coast will have to settle for much less
U.S. hardware than it had wished for. No new high-tech Aegis
missile cruisers. No P-3 Orion airplanes to counter China's
growing submarine fleet. And no new submarines for Taiwan's
will be permitted to buy a ground-based long-range radar
system to strengthen its outmoded defenses against a Chinese
air or missile attack, although it is still not clear whether
the administration intends to sell the Taiwanese the Pentagon's
top-of-the-line model. In addition, the Taiwanese will get
Maverick air-to-ground missiles; and an air-to-air weapon,
the AMRAAM, will be assigned to Taiwan but warehoused in
the United States until China acquires a comparable system.
Over the next year, the Pentagon will conduct a study of
Taiwan's naval needs; that's a way of softening the Aegis
decision by suggesting it isn't final.
ability to absorb a large infusion of sophisticated weaponry,
such as exists on the Aegis, is a matter of legitimate debate.
Skeptics argue that Taiwan lacks the trained personnel to
make good use of the ships and that other needs, such as
help with military organization, should take precedence.
And the proposed sale is hardly trifling; some items would
be of clear benefit to Taiwan immediately, especially the
powerful Mavericks. Still, it appears that Pentagon policymakers
were at least seriously considering urging the White House
to supply the Aegis, only to decide otherwise when it became
clear that the White House considered this overly provocative
of China, which has been menacing Taiwan because the Taiwanese
freely elected a president China deems insufficiently amenable
to unification on China's terms.
that's cause for concern. It is hard to view this decision
in isolation from such recent occurences as National security
adviser Sandy Berger's trip to Beijing, during which China's
leaders apparently demanded no advanced weapons sales to
Taiwan. Nor can it be viewed separately from yesterday's
defeat of a proposal for a formal United Nations Human Rights
Commission expression of concern about political repression
in China--a measure that was, commendably enough, proposed
by the Clinton administration, but which then died without
much of a fight by Washington on its behalf.
Republicans already are criticizing the president. They
need to be careful not to play politics with this issue.
But it is up to Congress to ask hard questions about whether
the administration's proposed sales to Taiwan are really
enough to help deter a Chinese move against the island or
whether more support is necessary. Particularly as it also
seeks a trade opening with China, the administration must
show that it fully understands the importance of matching
China's toughening posture toward Taiwan with an equal measure
of American resolve.
The Washington Post Company