President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has suffered a major diplomatic and national security defeat. As the US Congress adjourned late on Friday, it had not received notification from the State Department about the arms sale package for Taiwan, meaning the package is certain to remain stalled. Although Congress will remain in session for a few more days to deal with the US financial crisis before going into recess ahead of the November general elections, it is highly unlikely the arms sale will make it onto the agenda. The issue may be dealt with when Congress resumes in late November, or be left for the next president.
The government has consistently deceived both itself and the public over the arms purchase. When Ma attended Armed Forces Day celebrations on Sept. 3, he said: “The latest signs from the US imply that the US government will notify Congress that the legal procedures [for the arms sale] should be completed.” National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) said all the information he had obtained during a visit to the US pointed to support for the sale. In an interview on Sept. 9, Representative in Washington Jason Yuan (袁健生) said: “the arms purchase has never been in question” and that work on the deal had never been stopped.
The reality, however, looks different.
Does the US government’s preoccupation with the US financial crisis mean it isn’t interested in selling arms? Not at all. The State Department sent out notifications for arms deals with France, Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Taiwanese deal has been discussed for seven years. It can no longer be delayed with the excuse that it is still under discussion. Both houses of Congress have passed resolutions expressing concern over arms sales to Taiwan and requiring that the administration give them regular detailed briefings on the progress, a move that was opposed by both the State Justice departments. The Justice Department even said the bill “would infringe upon the president’s right to conduct foreign policy.”
This makes it clear that the case is not being blocked by Congress, but by the State Department and the White House. This is a serious blow to the Ma administration’s efforts to work with the US and to Ma’s national security strategies.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) must assume responsibility for this result. Pan-blue camp politicians boycotted what they called an overpriced arms procurement deal since it was announced, using it as tool in their political battles with former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). To dispel the Bush administration’s misgivings over his pro-Beijing tilt, Ma repeatedly said he would follow through on the arms purchase plan. But the White House’s commitment to defending Taiwan at any expense has been replaced by disappointment in Taiwanese politicians.
The US needs Beijing’s cooperation in fighting terror, on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and stabilizing the global financial system. Arms sales to Taiwan may disturb its relations with China. The Ma administration’s unilateral tilt toward China has prompted many US politicians and think tank experts to worry that arms and military technology sold to Taiwan will be leaked to China.
The KMT and the Ma administration’s misreading of the White House and the US Congress has caused the arms procurement effort to fail. The government must learn from this defeat, revise its faulty pro-China strategies, make personnel changes in the National Security Bureau and rebuild relations with the US. If it doesn’t, there is a real risk that relations between Taiwan, the US and China will become dangerously imbalanced.