Sun, Jun 26, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Ma sending dangerous message on arms sales

By Lai I-chung 賴怡忠

According to REPORTS, the Ministry of National Defense will be planning next year’s budget for F-16C/D aircraft and submarines based on minimal operational requirements, reasoning that allocating money to incomplete procurement plans results in ineffective budgeting. While the ministry insists this does not mean Taiwan has given up on these two arms deals, the US says it will not sell arms to Taiwan because Taipei has not allocated an adequate arms purchase budget.

Beyond the issue of the sale of F-16C/D aircraft, this calls into question whether US arms sales in effect are about to be terminated and whether the third Sino-US communique of 1982 is starting to control US decisions to sell arms to Taiwan.

Some believe that even if F-16C/D aircraft are not purchased, they can be replaced by upgrades to F-16A/B aircraft. However, these two aircraft types differ in terms of mileage and ammunition. More importantly, the F-16C/D plan involves buying an additional 66 aircraft on top of the existing 146 F-16A/B aircraft, which means Taiwan would have more than 200 aircraft.

The plan for upgrading F-16A/B aircraft is merely aimed at improving the quality of existing aircraft, not increasing the total number. These are two different concepts and upgrading F-16A/B aircraft cannot replace the addition of new F-16C/D aircraft.

When in opposition, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) did everything it could to stop arms purchases. After President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came into office, news spread that National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) requested that the US slow arms sales to Taiwan before meetings between the Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. This caused the US to doubt whether the Ma administration attached importance to arms procurement and to think that it would not consider initiating arms sales as long as Taiwan did not allocate a budget.

Now that the ministry is drawing up the smallest budget possible, the US has even more reason not to deal with arms sales to Taiwan.

During a visit to China earlier this year, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mentioned that the US might consider cutting arms sales to Taiwan gradually each year. Then, during his trip to the US, Chinese Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde (陳炳德) mentioned China’s “red line” on arms sales to Taiwan. He also released news in a meeting with US senators that the Taiwan Relations Act might be amended, and during a press conference, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen seemed disinterested in Taiwan.

These incidents imply that the third communique is beginning to control US arms sales to Taiwan. Taiwan must be more proactive in bringing things back inside the cross-strait military balance framework and preventing the military arms sales issue from being tied up to US-China or cross-strait relations.

Although the ministry’s actions are aimed at minimizing inefficient budgets, these actions send the dangerous message that Taipei does not care about arms sales while it is also a slap in the face to those 46 US senators who demanded that the US sell Taiwan F-16C/D aircraft.

After having solemnly pledged to buy F-16C/D aircraft and then reducing the necessary budget for doing so, the Ma government owes the Taiwanese an explanation. It needs to tell the nation whether this military procurement plan was a big joke and whether it has any strategies to deal with the increasing influence of the third Sino-US Communique on US arms sales to Taiwan.

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