Wed, Jun 22, 2011 - Page 8 News List

US Congress needs to act on TRA

By Peter Mattis

If the US is unwilling or unable to sell F-16s to Taiwan, what hope is there that the US would provide F-35s to Taiwan? Given the steadily rising costs of the F-35 program, could Taiwan afford to buy the F-35s in sufficient numbers to replace its rapidly aging fighter aircraft?

The answer almost certainly is “no.” US concerns that Beijing may walk away from any one, if not all, of the upcoming discussions or official visits with the US suggest Taiwan policy is sublimated to the concerns of the US-China relationship. Taiwan, simply put, is treated as another issue to be managed, not as a relationship of its own.

The ever busier schedule of US-China relations puts pressure on US diplomats to play nice with Beijing to ensure the next meeting goes forward, but with the schedule so full, there can never be a good time to sell weapons to Taiwan — a point Shriver called the “tyranny of the schedule.”

Without an institutionalized process for the arms sales to Taiwan with its own bureaucratic momentum, future sales, like the ones languishing today, will depend on the whims of the sitting US administration to find a good time. Similarly, a routine process would either acclimatize Beijing to US policy or perhaps slow the buildup of forces across the Taiwan Strait to reduce US arms sales.

To combat this lethargy in the US’ Taiwan policy, panelist Nancy Bernkopf Tucker recommended more active and aggressive Congressional oversight of the US’ Taiwan policy, comparable with the early years of the Reagan administration. However, many Congressional members present at the hearing said that the administration failed to appear to justify apparent inaction in the US-Taiwan relationship. If oversight is to become more active, then Congress must do more than complain.

Compelling foreign policy action from Congress is difficult and often requires a political high-wire act, but nothing less will do for Taiwan.

Peter Mattis is a graduate of the security studies program at Georgetown University with experience on China-related issues.

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