How far can Taiwan authorities' "arms purchase diplomacy" go?

The case of arms sales worth 610.8 billion New Taiwan Currency has always been questioned by outsiders whether it has something to do with the general election of the United States. On July 29, Chen Shui-bian jumped out to specially "clarify" the matter, saying that the arms sales case had nothing to do with US general election and the purchase of submarines was not done due to pressure and request from the US side. Chen Shui-bian even repeatedly extended "thanks" to the United States, saying "he is very grateful for the Bush administration, the US Congress and the American people, and if someone still thinks it was done out of US pressure, that is completely inconsistent with the facts and very unfair to the US government and the Bush administration."

Is this huge arms sales budget made in the form of selling land and borrowing money really free from US pressure as claimed by Chen Shui-bian? What kind of influence will it exert on the current Taiwan-US relationship? Speaking in a broader sense, how should Taiwan-US relationship be approached after the "March 20" election in the region?

Two new features of Taiwan-US arms dealing
First is the change from a "seller's market" into the "buyer's market". In fact, the arms purchasing relationship between the United States and Taiwan has changed from "Taiwan's busy buying" to "US anxious to sell". There are many reasons for this change, it is due to enhanced supervision by forces out of office after change in the Island's political situation; it is also due to the slowdown of Taiwan's economic growth, the deteriorating situation of financial budge; the influence of the forthcoming presidential election in the United States, etc.

Since 2000 a buyer's market has gradually emerged in the process of the shift of Taiwan-US military equipment. First was the long-distance early warning radar arms sales case approved in the late period of the Clinton administration.According to military experts' evaluation, although the radar system can cover a very wide scouting and searching scope and can even penetrate deep into the northwest region of the mainland, it is of little significance in terms of Taiwan's defense operation since it is so close to the Taiwan Straits. That's why Taiwan was slow in making the budget after Washington approved the sales program. On April 24, 2001, the United States announced its approval to sell to Taiwan four "Kidd" destroyers, 12 P-3C " hunter constellation" anti-submarine helicopters, eight diesel-powered submarines and other technologically advanced weaponry. Taiwan's military authority felt dissatisfied with US disapproval of the sale of Aegis destroyers, which were instead replaced by "Kidd" destroyers, and was thus not enthusiastic about the arms dealing. The "Legislative Yuan National Defense Committee" once under the strong domination of an opposition party deleted the purchase of "Kidd" destroyers from the budget, thus compelling the United States to cut the price. The case of submarines did not go smoothly, not only the source of goods was not in place, but also the price was so high and the total amount was so big that it was simply impossible for Taiwan's annual "national defense budget" of about 260 billion New Taiwan Currency to digest in a normal way. Although Taiwan's "Legislative Yuan" did not openly oppose the purchase of submarines, it set the demand that "submarines be domestically built" with the participation of a local shipbuilding company. The above-mentioned factors led to the slow making of budget on several arms sales cases, thus making the United States very anxious.

Since 2001, the United States has repeatedly applied pressure on Taiwan in regard to this issue and even threatened that if Taiwan is unable to implement its arms purchase budget, then in the future when it lists its arms purchase items, it "should act with care". The United States has also taken open action to get involved directly in Taiwan's internal affairs by playing the role as the other party of the arms dealing, it helps the Democratic Progressive Party (PPP) authority to work on the opposition parties and on the "Legislative Yuan". In 2003 and 2004, the United States have twice invited the "Legislative Yuan" to organize delegations to visit the country, during the visit, America made no secret of its aim.

Second, the PPP authority intentionally turns "arms purchase" into a "diplomatic" tool for dealing with the United States. Soon after it took office, the PPP, using opposition parties and the "Legislative Yuan" as a cover, continually asked for high price in the game of Taiwan-US arms purchase, and used arms purchase as a "diplomatic tool", so as to attain its aim of "promoting government through military". In June this year, Taiwan's "foreign minister" Chen Tang-shan in the "Legislative Yuan" indicated that "from diplomatic perspective, the numerous weapons Taiwan purchased from the United States should be used, to a certain extent, as a bargaining chip, arms purchase has become a link in Taiwan's diplomatic work. In Taiwan's "Legislative Yuan Foreign Affairs Commission", someone even suggested that the United States should agree to grant senior Taiwan officials transit to Washington, or guarantee dispatch of troops for assistance in defense of Taiwan in case of emergence on the Taiwan Straits as a give-and-take condition for special arms purchase case.

No dramatic change in US-Taiwan ties
US-Taiwan ties, after the "March 20" election, especially after "May 20", did witness bigger change than before, but it is still too early to say they are "on good terms again as before".

First, the "flash points" are concentrated mainly on the aspect of military interaction. US-Taiwan interaction, seemed to be close though, presents the "mono", "twice-cooked rice" characteristics. The long-range radar arms sales case, US military and government officials' visits to Taiwan, the 610 billion worth of special budget, the participation in "Hanguang exercises" by large numbers of US military personnel-all in the nature of military interaction, the US visit paid by Wang Chin-ping and his party in the latter half of June was also defined as an "arms purchase" investigation tour. Among these military interactions,none was newly appeared after "March 20", they were the extensions and continuations of previous interactions. For example, long-range radar was approved as early as the Clinton administration times,US army's "observation"of "Hanguang exercises" in Taiwan had long been existing before.As regards US non-military support for Taiwan's accession to the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Congress had in April 2003 passed the restrictive bill on urging its administrative department to adopt measures to support Taiwanˇ®s accession to the WHO. That same year the United States and Taiwan jointly engineered to work out a plan. This stand of the United States has not changed in 2004, but has only been hardened somewhat in degree.

Second, US policy of opposing change in the status quo remains unchanged. Since the PPP authority believes that the United States would not abandon Taiwan no matter how the latter would act. This compelled the United States to stress again and again that US support is conditional and based on a prerequisite. The prerequisite is that Taiwan does not make provocation and does not declare independence. At the Congress hearing on the "Taiwan Relations Act" held in April 2004, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly warned: The United States clearly notices these dangers, and Chen Shui-bian and others are believed to be aware of these, stressing that Taiwan authorities' unilateral heading for independence would destroy Taiwan.

Although some people in the United States preach the need to reexamine the "one-China" policy,the mainstream continues to maintain the framework of the "one-China" policy based on the three communiques and the "Taiwan Relations Act". US current seemingly heating military support for Taiwan is associated with the localism and policy partiality of Bureaucratic institutions. The US National Defense Department, proceeding from its own interests, of course,hopes to intensify its advantage in East Asia, while its military industry compound also strongly supports expansion of arms sales to Taiwan. There are differences between the stand of the National Defense Department and the State Department which devotes its effort to stabilizing the situation on the Taiwan Straits. Despite differences in the concrete methods adopted by different departments, emphasis on stability on the Taiwan Straits and maintaining the "status quo" is the common policy of the Bush administration, the United States has clearly defined the meaning of "status quo".Deputy Assistant Under Secretary of State Matthew Daley declared in Singapore on April 22, 2004: "We do not support ˇ®Taiwan independence' and oppose moves by either side to unilaterally change the status quo. For Taiwan, it means exercising prudence in all areas touching on cross-Strait relations and avoiding provocative gestures and advocate or appear to advocate independence."

Two future observation targets
There are two observation targets in regard to the prospect of US-Taiwan relations.One is the "transit" planned by Chen Shui-bian and other high-ranking Taiwan officialsŁ»the other is how much inking is put on the Taiwan issue during US presidential election.Since Chen Shui-bian assumed office,he has basically maintained the frequency of going abroad for visit once in a year. And the emphasis of his visit is put on "transit" to the United States. Chen Shui-bian and You Hsi-kun respectively had "transits" to the United States in August and September this year. But viewed from Annette Luˇ®s "transit", the United States did not quite trust the PPP authority and did not allow it to use "transit" to kick up a rumpus.

With regard to US presidential election, in the 2000 US presidential election, although the election programs of the two Parties both showed concern for the China policy and mentioned the Taiwan issue,there were not many disputes and heated debate. In this year's election at least up till now,it is still not seen that candidate nominated by one party would use the Taiwan issue to attack the other party, in the camp of Bush seeking for re-election, there exist strong anti-China, pro-Taiwan forces, however, after several years of explorations, the Bush administration should have come to know the complexity and sensibility of the Taiwan question. If the opposite camp does not use this issue to launch fierce attack,in terms of the mode of a rational decision,the Bush camp would avoid showing off the card on its own initiative. Compared with 1992 when senior Bush approved the sales of 150 F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan, the current Bush administration faces much less pressure, even if the ratio of a reappearance of large-scale new arms sales case cannot be ruled out completely,such ratio will be greatly reduced.

By People's Daily Online

People's Daily Online ---