American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young's comments last week urging the legislature to pass the arms procurement bill this fall sent many politicians into an uproar. The ensuing slew of wild criticism has included accusations that he interfered with Taiwan's domestic affairs and demands that he be deported, as well as personal attacks that he is only concerned with US interests and was acting as its "arms dealer."
It's easy to draw parallels between these politicians and China's intensely nationalistic online community of "angry youths." But of course it isn't Taiwanese nationalism that drives them, but Chinese nationalism.
Do Young's comments really constitute interference in Taiwan's domestic affairs? The US' proposed arms sale is permitted under its Taiwan Relations Act. Taiwan has never objected to this, and in fact has strongly welcomed it. During its time in power, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) bought much of the nation's weaponry from the US.
If one looks at the current arms deal as a simple business transaction, how is it unreasonable for a seller to offer the buyer a last chance to make the purchase after he or she has gone back on promises and dragged out the negotiations?
How could this be construed as "political interference?" Opposition politicians could always come out and say clearly that they don't want to buy the US' weapons and be done with it. But do they dare? In refusing to buy US arms, are they preparing to buy Chinese weapons instead, or perhaps getting ready to surrender to China?
As for the claims that Young is just a US arms dealer, China claimed in the 1950s and 1960s that that was the US' motivation for starting wars. In digging up this excuse, Taiwanese politicians opposed to the arms budget have only hurt themselves by revealing the true weakness of their position. Isn't the Lafayette frigate scandal a classic example of collusion between the KMT and China to purchase arms? This is just an attempt to distract attention from the pan-blue camp's own crimes.
Is there a case of a truly foolish arms purchase for Taiwan to study? Certainly. In August last year, China held joint military exercises with Russia in an apparent attempt to intimidate Taiwan, Japan and the US. It was also a business opportunity for Russia to display its "advanced weaponry" for potential Chinese buyers. After the Chinese military saw Russia's Ilyushin-76MD transport aircraft and Ilyushin-78 mid-air refuelers, it immediately signed a US$1.5 billion order and made a down payment without even going to inspect the production facilities.
The contract clearly stipulated that the aircraft should be delivered by the summer of this year, but as yet there is still no sign of them. Russian newspapers have reported that the manufacturing plant in Uzbekistan has lost many of its skilled workers and now doesn't have the human resources to produce large batches of the aircraft.
Does China have the guts to turn on Russia? Of course not. Russia is its old pal. Is there any doubt that People's Liberation Army generals have lined their own pockets during the deal? Now Chinese President Hu Jintao (
People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has repeatedly called the current arms package "stupid," questioning why the US won't sell Taiwan the AEGIS-class warships he claims it needs.
But if the US were to give Soong his AEGIS fleet, the US would be the one making the foolish sale.
First of all, US policy has always been to sell Taiwan the arms it needs to defend itself, not to make it more powerful than the Chinese army.
If that had happened, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) would long ago have tried to take back China with Soong's father, former lieutenant-general Soong Ta (宋達).
Second, arms-producing countries do not normally give their advanced weapons to others, in order to safeguard their own security. This is common sense.
With certain Taiwanese politicians joining forces with their Chinese supporters to force Taiwan into eventual unification, it would not only be stupid, but crazy as well, for the US to sell Taiwan its best weapons, since certain people would give them to Beijing as "tribute." Could the US be so crazy? Certainly not.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in Taipei.
Translated by Marc Langer
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