Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: US arms sales put into perspective

During her trip to Beijing last week, the US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met with three top Chinese officials -- Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin (江澤民), and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星).

Based on their meetings, it was obvious that Beijing's opposition to arms sales to Taiwan was the central message conveyed to Rice while discussing the topic.

Other issues regarding Taiwan, for example, dealt with Li's so-called "three stops." Li urged the US to stop selling arms to Taiwan, stop supporting Taiwan's participation in international organizations for sovereign states and stop exchanges with the government -- on top of a statement of Beijing's refusal to accept Taiwan independence were communicated in all three meetings. The issue of arms sales was the most sensitive, judging from the timing and the backdrop of these talks.

A few events highlight just how sensitive the issue of arms sales really is. First, there are large-scale military exercises planned by both the US and China in the region. This month, China will hold and amphibious landing exercise on a group of islands in the Taiwan Strait. This move is interpreted as intending to demonstrate China's determination to conquer Taiwan by using force in the event Taiwan declares independence.

On the other hand, the US is also deploying up to seven aircraft carrier strike groups in the Pacific as part of its new Fleet Response Plan. Many have interpreted this plan as a strong show of force by the US, not only to North Korea, but also China, of its determination and willingness to maintain peace and order in the region and the status quo in Taiwan Strait.

Then there is the unprecedented open, public and high-profile talks between Taiwan and the US on the sale of advanced weapons. It is expected that the deal will be approved, since both governments are eager to push it through -- despite the fact that the pan-blue camp continues to voice opposition over things such as the overall cost of the deal. Once the deal is sealed, the arms purchased by Taiwan should slow down China's military domination and even tip the scales somewhat in the balance of power between both sides of the strait.

The military exercise and the urgency attached to the arms sales to Taiwan by the US shows that the US is genuinely concerned about maintaining the balance of military power and the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. This goes to show that accusations by the pan-blue camp that the arms sales are part of some "under-the-table" exchange of favors between the US and Taiwan are completely groundless. Moreover, the strong reaction from Beijing regarding the arms sale also refute another wild allegation by the pan-blue camp -- that the US has obtained the tactful consent of China before hand.

The truth of matter is that China has very little reason to do such things. First, as a result of years of military expansion, China is at a critical point in turning the military balance of power in its favor in the Taiwan Strait. Second, since the US is still seeking China's support on the issue of North Korea, China is unlikely to see any reason to back down on the issue of Taiwan at the moment.

Finally, in view of the power struggle between Hu and Jiang, it is unlikely that either camp within the Beijing leadership will show weakness on the issue of Taiwan.

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