The latest US arms sale to Taiwan, which includes M1A2T Abrams tanks and Stinger missiles, was previously reported to be temporarily shelved. As the deal was officially approved and promulgated by the US Department of State and the US Congress was officially notified of the approval on Monday, the sale is expected to take effect in one month if everything goes well.
According to a Time magazine report on June 24, US President Donald Trump’s administration had temporarily set aside the planned arms sales in a bid to facilitate a swift end to the US-China trade dispute, and prevent unexpected problems from arising during Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Although talk of Taiwan being used as a bargaining chip might not be groundless or fake news, the actual development proved that Taiwan did not become Trump’s gift to Xi.
With his Wall Street background, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin is generally considered a representative of the dovish faction in Trump’s administration that advocates mending relations with China. In the Time report, an anonymous US defense official was quoted as saying that Mnuchin was “holding up a final decision” on the arms sale, suggesting that Mnuchin is a fellow traveler of the pro-China faction in the US government in an attempt to weaken his political influence and invalidate his proposal’s legitimacy.
Behind-the-scenes political news such as this exposes the serious political conflict between factions within the Trump administration that are trying to influence public opinion to attack their political opponents.
The news media constantly make big a fuss about these remarks and corrode Trump’s prestige as a leader. Taiwan has involuntarily become involved in the jostling for power in US politics. The US$2.22 billion arms sale package, including 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, fully conforms with US policy of bringing more job opportunities to the US.
Even though the approval process was slightly delayed, it was but a customary negotiating trick by Trump and a strategy of political expediency in consideration of Beijing before the meeting with Xi.
When talks got stuck again, Trump once again played his best trick — imposing “maximum pressure” — by approving the arms sale, a huge unexpected gift from Washington to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) before she embarked on her state visit to four allies in the Caribbean, which involved stopovers in the US.
The arms sale was not canceled as a gift to please Xi ahead of the meeting, while Xi came well-prepared and played the North Korea card.
After Xi’s meeting with summit host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 27, public broadcaster NHK aired an exclusive interview with Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs First China and Mongolia Division Director Keiichi Iwamoto, who was present at the two leaders’ meeting.
Iwamoto said that during the meeting, Xi confirmed that he had relayed Abe’s goodwill offer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to improve bilateral relations between Japan and North Korea.
According to the Japanese state media’s interpretation, a national leader relaying messages between two other leaders was unprecedented, and that Xi did so was extraordinarily significant.
Extending Abe this favor indirectly confirmed the predictions by the New York Times and other media outlets when Xi visited Pyongyang before the meeting with Trump — Xi intends to act as an intermediary between Trump and Kim, and playing the North Korea card was Xi’s goodwill gift to Trump.
Unfortunately, this gift was overshadowed by the historic meeting between Trump and Kim at the Panmunjom truce village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on June 30, and Xi’s plan to please Trump came to naught.
The Trump-Kim meeting took shape in just 48 hours, following a tweet by Trump inviting Kim to join him as he toured the DMZ.
It is clear that Trump preferred to meet face-to-face with Kim rather than having messages relayed by an intermediary. Taking the initiative to propose resuming talks with North Korea and verbally inviting Kim to visit the White House both indicate that Trump intends to take back the initiative. The last thing Trump wants to see is Xi using Pyongyang as a bargaining chip.
International politics are volatile, and Taiwan, situated on the front line of geopolitics, has to a certain extent become involuntarily involved in the big power political game that has been set off by the US-China trade spat, talks about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the sanctions on Iran.
Fortunately, Taiwan and the US have established a solid foundation of mutual trust over the past three years, and Taiwan’s cautious and self-restrained national security team has abandoned the aggressive approach of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Instead, it is devoting its best efforts to remove the label as a “troublemaker” and greatly reduce the probability of being unexpectedly sold out or sacrificed.
Chen Yung-chang is deputy secretary-general of the Taipei Chamber of Commerce.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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