INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Ian H. McDougallNews Weekly
US arms sales affirm Taiwan's strategic role
, March 6, 2010
With Washington's recently announced arms sales to Taiwan, China is learning that the United States will not let Beijing dictate terms where America's vital interests are at stake.
Although there is much talk about China's vastly expanded military spending, it will be 50 years before China can match the United States where it matters - in high-tech offensive warfare - on land, in the air or at sea.
The $US6 billion arms package announced in late January did stir Beijing, which announced cancellation of some military exchanges and punitive sanctions against some US firms with links to the Pentagon. The reaction was hardly an explosion, but it reminded Beijing that the US is not a "paper tiger" to be abused and insulted at will. Beijing's reaction, tellingly, was not the customary rant that Beijing's robotic foreign affairs spokesmen normally deliver in such circumstances.
For the past year, Beijing has been rubbing up Washington the wrong way, berating US officials over the global financial crisis, belittling US President Barack Obama during his China visit and at the Copenhagen climate talks, and sabotaging Washington's attempts to rein in Iran's nuclear program.
US commentator Helene Cooper recently remarked: "Now, the Obama Administration has started to push back. In announcing an arms sales package to Taiwan worth $US6 billion, the United States has levelled a direct strike at the heart of the most sensitive diplomatic issue between the two countries since America affirmed the 'one China' policy in 1972."
Undoubtedly, China is feeling cocky about the trials of the United States, a country which is both China's main trading partner and main strategic opponent. But, like the report of Mark Twain's passing, the death of the United States has been greatly exaggerated.
Where, for example, is Beijing going to park its US$3 trillion in foreign reserves? Not Europe. The euro is a fragile currency, and the European Union's fundamental flaws have been exposed by the collapse of the Greek economy. Now, according to London's Daily Telegraph
, China's money managers have been instructed to put China's savings into the safest haven in international finance - assets guaranteed by the US Government, such as Treasury notes.
Washington is also firing a warning shot across China's bows over Iran. China's ally, Iran, is the West's most pressing and dangerous foe in the Middle East. Beijing has been deliberately and intentionally frustrating US moves to strengthen United Nations sanctions against Tehran. The Israelis will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, which they regard as an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israel and Taiwan have strong ties, based on their precarious diplomatic and strategic situations. China is playing a dangerous game.
Former US presidents talked tough on China early, only to go soft on Beijing later. The subtext of the Obama's administration is now "I might be a Democrat, but I'm not Jimmy Carter."
"This is a case of making sure that there was no misunderstanding that we will act in our own national security interests," one senior Obama Administration official said. Another high-ranking official, speaking anonymously, said: "Unlike the previous administration, we did not wait until the end of our administration to go ahead with arms sales to Taiwan."
Taiwan has recently been improving relations with mainland China, but Taipei remains wary about Beijing's final aims. Taipei has been the capital of the Republic of China since Chiang Kai-shek's retreat to Taiwan in 1949 following the loss of the China mainland to Mao's Communists in what was then a still unresolved civil war. The Kuomintang (KMT) still has many supporters in mainland China, and young people often say, "I prefer the KMT to the Communists."
For Taiwan, the ultimate test of Beijing's good intentions will be the dismantling of the 1,000-plus missiles the Beijing regime has aimed at Taiwan. China can remove them, but it can just as easily put them back in place.
Taiwan is vital to the US strategic position in the Western Pacific. With Japan to the north, and the Philippines to the south, China cannot gain free access to the Pacific for its air and naval forces while Taiwan remains an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" for the US and its allies. Thus, the capture of Taiwan is a constant and enduring aim of Beijing's strategic policy.Rearming Taiwan
Following the KMT's shameful obstruction of arms purchases on purely partisan motivations under the previous government, the current KMT Administration is intent on rearming Taiwan. This $US6 billion purchase is the first instalment of upgraded weapons that will strengthen the island-nation's defences, to be followed by an even larger purchase of modern F-16 fighters. The current French-supplied Mirage jet fighters are suffering from lack of parts. Improved fighters and submarines would restore the balance in the Taiwan Strait.
A free trade agreement between mainland China and Taiwan is nearing completion, more evidence that the current Beijing line is more carrot than stick.
However, China's ultimate aim is to bring Taiwan under Beijing's defence umbrella. The means might have changed, but the aims have not.