During his visit to China, US Vice President Dick Cheney offered a new explanation for Washington's arms sales to Taiwan, saying they were the result of China's deploying missiles aimed at Taiwan. This explanation may seem straightforward, but it is definitely not a good omen for Taiwan and is something we should study in more detail.
The decades-long history of US arms sales to Taiwan started long before China began aiming missiles at Taiwan; such weapons are supplied with the aim of preventing a Chinese attack. Other threats by China include bombings, blockades and amphibious attacks. This is why Taiwan's military plan aims to control air and sea space and deter land attacks.
US arms sales to Taiwan also meet the different needs of the army, navy and air force. Cheney's new explanation does not conform with reality, and it is wrong. Even if China were not deploying missiles, the other military threats would still exist, and Taiwan would still need to buy arms. At most, anti-missile-related arms sales could be decreased or eliminated. A reasonable explanation would be to say that arms sales to Taiwan are the result of China's overall military threat to Taiwan.
If arms sales to Taiwan were aimed only at missile defense, the US would be equating these two issues: If China decreased its missile deployment, the US might reconsider arms sales to Taiwan, which would be to Taiwan's detri-ment. Missiles being only one part of China's arsenal, China would score an important victory if it could influence overall US arms sales to Taiwan.
One of China's best strategies would be to highlight its massive missile threat against Taiwan. This would offer at least three advantages: it would deter Taiwan from declaring independence; it would force Taiwan to transfer military resources toward a hugely expensive anti-missile defense system, thereby postponing the introduction of other advanced equipment and improved war preparations, and it would allow China to use the threat as a bargaining chip in its dealings with the US.
Although intensifying the threat would cause resentment in the US and lead to a military build-up in East Asia, it would still be worthwhile since it would amount to one negative against three positives. Cheney's public mention of the missile threat shows this threat's deepening deterrence effect. Since China still hasn't acknowledged aiming a large number of missiles at Taiwan, the time to negotiate the issue has not arrived, but the intent is clear.
Taiwan should pay close attention to future changes in US diplomatic policies. Yet it is currently inappropriate to place too much emphasis on the missile threat. It is only one of the military threats Taiwan faces, and is not the key to winning a military confrontation.
I don't believe we can equate the military benefits and political effects of the threat. Taiwan's past handling of the issue (for example, the emphasis on the anti-missile abilities of AEGIS-equipped de-stroyers as a way of raising the issue to a level at which it would have to be endorsed in a referendum) might easily leave the US convinced that this is Taiwan's most important defense issue, and that it necessitates selling Taiwan expensive anti-missile equipment.
With shrinking national defense budgets for international purchases, it becomes difficult for Taiwan to quickly complete the purchase of a full order. This gives the US the incorrect impression that Taiwan does not intend to strengthen its national defenses, instead relying on the US.