The administration of US President George W. Bush on Friday officially agreed to provide nearly US$6.5 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan, ending a year-long freeze that arose from strained US-Taiwan relations and which had raised questions about Washington’s long-term commitment to Taiwan’s national security.
Taiwan supporters in Washington and elsewhere praised the move.
The notification paves the way for negotiations between Taiwanese and US officials on a final contract that is expected to be signed by the end of the year, in time to take advantage of appropriations for the deal approved by the Legislative Yuan last year.
The package includes such long-sought items as PAC-3 missile batteries, Apache helicopters, Harpoon and Javelin missiles, and spare parts for Taiwan’s military air fleet.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon unit that handles foreign arms sales, officially notified Congress on Friday of the administration’s plans to sell Taiwan six packages of weaponry, which, while not fully satisfying Taipei’s desires, would represent one of the largest bundles of arms sales in the history of US-Taiwan relations.
The biggest omission from the Taiwan shopping list was design work on the eight diesel-electric submarines which Taiwan has long coveted.
In addition, the administration rejected Taiwan’s request for Black Hawk utility helicopters, and reduced the number of PAC-3 guided missile batteries that Taiwan had hoped to obtain.
However, administration and congressional sources said that the omitted items may still be sold this year or next year as the State Department carries out additional work on the requests.
“We will continue evaluating Taiwan’s other requests,” a State Department official told the Taipei Times.
“The administration faithfully implements the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA], under which the US makes available items for Taiwan’s self-defense,” the official said.
Sources said that the official might have been referring to the Black Hawk helicopters, which had been expected to be approved.
That could come later this year, sources said.
While the House approved a US$700 billion financial bailout on Friday and left town to campaign for re-election, the Senate decided to stay on in so-called “pro forma” session and hold a lame-duck session beginning on Nov. 17 to clear unfinished business.
That would allow the administration to forward additional notifications on items that were absent from its notifications list, if it wishes.
“It is in the realm of possibility that if they decided to notify the other sales, that they can still do so,” one congressional staffer involved in the matter said. “I don’t expect it to happen, but I cannot rule it out.”
The State Department issued a statement after the notifications were made public that said: “This is a significant and tangible demonstration of this administration to provide Taiwan the defensive arms it needs to be strong, as provided by the Taiwan Relations Act.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a firm Taiwan supporter, praised the approval of the sales.
The approval “underscores the determination of the United States to continue the sale of appropriate defensive military equipment to Taiwan” in accordance with the TRA, she said.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, the president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, praised the decision.
“The impasse over arms sales has done immeasurable damage to the US-Taiwan relationship over the past several years, and these congressional notifications, while very late and incomplete, are an important and positive step forward,” he said.
In dollar terms, the items approved on Friday run to just over half the estimated US$11 billion to US$12 billion in items sought by Taiwan.
For instance, Taiwan had requested six PAC-3 batteries plus a training battery with a total of 384 missiles, but the DSCA notification called for only four batteries with 330 missiles to be sold.
Nevertheless, by far the most expensive of the six approved items was the US$3.1 billion PAC-3 missiles, plus an assortment of equipment needed to launch and operate the missiles.
“The sale serves US national, economic and security interests by supporting [Taiwan’s] continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and enhance its defensive capability,” a DSCA press release with the notification said.
“The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region,” it said.
The next biggest item was US$2.53 billion for 30 AH-64D Apache helicopters and related weapons.
The helicopters, which will go to Taiwan’s army, will “provide for a more advanced targeting and engagement capability” with advanced radar and Hellfire missiles, and “upgrade the anti-armor day/night missile capability, provide for the defense of vital installations and provide close air support for the military ground forces,” the release said.
The other items in the list are the upgrade of four E-2T aircraft to the Hawkeye 2000 configuration (US$250 million), 32 UGM-84L sub-launched Harpoon Block II missiles and two exercise missiles (US$200 million), 182 Javelin guided missile rounds and 20 Javelin command launch units (US$47 million) and spare parts for various aircraft, including F-16s, the Indigenous Defense Fighter, C-130Hs and F-5s (US$334 million).
Congressional sources said that the administration informed the two congressional committees involved in the arms sales, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of its intent to approve the six packages on Wednesday afternoon.
They asked that Congress complete a lengthy pre-clearance process and waive a 20-day informal review period.
While the staff was angry that the Bush administration kept its deliberations secret from Congress all year — breaking a traditional understanding that the two branches keep in close touch on such matters — Congress’ strong support of Taiwan prevented this from holding up the process.
“However unhappy staff and members are, members in particular, about the process breakdown that occurred this year, there was an overwhelming willingness to go forward and accommodate the administration in its request,” a congressional staffer said. “So this shows the continued and ongoing strong support by the United States for Taiwan’s legitimate defensive needs.”
“We need to have a regular, ongoing consultation process on Taiwan arms sales and the broader issue of Taiwan’s defense needs,” he said.
Ros-Lehtinen underscored this concern.
“For almost 30 years the judicious sale of defensive weapons systems has been an essential element of United States support for a secure, stable and democratic Taiwan, as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Now is not the time to backtrack from that historic and bipartisan policy,” she said.
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