Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 8 News List

China's arms sales may press US

CHENG TA-CHEN 鄭大誠

The Russian media recently reported that China has agreed to sell 24 Jian-10 (J-10, 殲十) fighter aircraft to Iran. This will not be the first time that China has sold military aircraft to Iran, and the amount of money involved in this deal is not particularly high. Some people think that the reason China has made this transaction public is to pressure the US into not selling its advanced F-16 C/D fighter aircraft to Taiwan.

The US has been unhappy with China's arms sales to Iran for a long time.

The most important reason for this is that the US suspects that after Iran receives these Chinese-made weapons, including Hongying-5 (HN-5, 紅纓五號) surface-to-air missiles, armor-piercing ammunition, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, rocket artillery and sniper rifles, they will resell the equipment to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

This would mean that Chinese-made weapons might become a threat to US military aircraft.

Beginning this summer, US officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, started to express their concerns to China, but they have received a rather cool response from the Chinese leadership.

It said that these are normal arms sales, and that it doesn't want to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, in this case Iran.

Under its policy to modernize the army, China is not only importing military equipment from Russia, it also keeps increasing its arms sales to developing countries.

Figures published by the US Congressional Research Service show that China has sold ammunition, especially missiles, to developing countries for an average amount of US$1.3 billion per year in the past few years.

This is the fifth-largest amount in the world. Compared with the arms sales of countries like the US and Russia, it is still only a small amount -- less than one-eighth of US arms sales to developing countries. But because some of the countries that buy arms from China are countries that the US regards as "rogue states" -- such as Iran and North Korea -- the US is still worried about it.

Given these circumstances, it is possible that China will use its arms sales as a tool to threaten the US' international arms sales. In the past, China has always protested the US policy of selling weapons to Taiwan, but to its regret it has had no means to effectively respond to or counter it.

But now the situation has changed. With the improved quality of Chinese arms and the expansion of its international arms sales, if the incentive is big enough, the US government might decide to abandon the sale of certain kinds of arms to Taiwan if that is a condition China sets.

If that happens, the difficult situation Taiwan faces with regard to its national security and modernization could become even more precarious because of this new form of arms sales-related pressure that China may be exercising over the US. This could also result in further complications in relations between Taiwan and the US.

The Taiwanese public must be vigilant.

Cheng Ta-chen is an independent defense analyst.

Translated by Anna Stiggelbout

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