A month after the Legislative Yuan broke a four-year deadlock over the purchase of a package of advanced US weapons, the US State Department is actively blocking the sale from going through to warn President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) against holding a referendum on Taiwan's entry into the UN, one of Washington's leading commentators on Taiwanese affairs said.
Writing in the latest issue of Defense News, John Tkacik, a Heritage Foundation researcher, said the State Department had told the Pentagon that it opposed the sale of P-3C Orion submarine hunter aircraft and advanced PAC-2 anti-ballistic missile batteries, which the Legislative Yuan agreed to fund in June.
The budget, approved after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) majority in the legislature agreed to release the funds, called for spending some US$1.3 billion on the aircraft and US$800 million on the missile batteries, plus a separate US$6 million to study the purchase of diesel electric submarines.
The official letter of request to buy the two systems has "been in the Pentagon for weeks," Tkacik wrote in the latest issue of the weekly military affairs publication.
The Pentagon has prepared a notification package that must be sent to Congress for its consideration before any sale is made, but it has been waiting for the necessary State Department green light to send the package, which the department has so far failed to give.
"State Department officers," Tkacik wrote, "now tell the Pentagon they don't want the package to move. They say they fear approving the package might `embolden' Taiwan's president to move ahead with a local referendum on Taiwan's entry into the United Nations."
Behind the State Department's opposition to the sales, Tkacik said, is the department's fear of the Chinese reaction, especially in view of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill's need for Chinese cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue.
"Internally, State Department officials acknowledge that the eagerness of Christopher Hill to get something concrete out of his North Korean denuclearization efforts means he will not entertain any policy decision that might anger Beijing. And Taiwan weapon sales are a sure ... way for the State Department to get an agitated visit from the Chinese ambassador," Tkacik wrote.
The State Department refused to comment on the issue or on Tkacik's report.
"We don't talk about the internal process, which various items are reviewed for potential sale to Taiwan, and what the respective positions are of anybody within the US government when these things are reviewed," said a department official, who would not allow his name or position to be identified.
"Individual sales are decided on a case-by-case basis. When there is a decision to make a sale, there is an announcement that is made," he said.
However, the official did dismiss the notion that the department was opposed to arms sales to Taiwan.
"The United States has a policy based on the Taiwan Relations Act to make available to Taiwan items of self-defense," the official said.
"That policy has not changed. The policy is supported by all agencies of the US government," the official said.
"The president [in 2001] indicated that there are items that the US is prepared to make available to Taiwan," the official said. "That's our policy."