Washington sources told the Taipei Times that Wang Yi (王毅), director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, left Washington “disappointed” following a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg this week, during which he tried to persuade the US to end arms sales to Taiwan.
Two sources said Wang Yi argued that greatly improved relations across the Taiwan Strait meant that the chances of military confrontation were dramatically reduced and that Taiwan no longer needed to increase defenses, adding that if the US went ahead with the sales it would have a strong negative impact on China-US relations.
But the US side replied that China’s own military buildup and failure to reduce the large missile force Beijing has aimed at Taiwan did not give Washington much confidence in Wang’s argument.
One source said: “The US response was that: ‘We don’t arm Taiwan to turn it into an offensive threat, we arm Taiwan in response to the PLA force modernization and the threat it poses to Taiwan.’”
While the US did not reveal its plans for arms sales to Taiwan, it gave the clear impression that future sales were under serious consideration.
This meeting came as a new report from the Project 2049 Institute — a Washington-based think tank — said: “Over the next two to three months, senior non-Cabinet officials from Taiwan will come to the United States to discuss arms sales and a broad range of ties.”
The report says that while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is publicly prioritizing the procurement of US F-16 C/D fighter aircraft, “some lend credibility to the notion that there exists a lack of consistency between what the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] advocates in public and in private.”
It also said: “The Taiwanese should prepare for senior level defense meetings with the United States, even if they have limited time to discuss budgetary issues.”
“The United States DOD [Department of Defense] and DOS [Department of State] should work towards arriving at a consensus by this summer regarding Taiwan’s specific defense needs. It must also ascertain what the KMT administration is actually willing to purchase,” it said. “Having learned from the mistakes of the [former US president George W.] Bush administration, the [US President Barack] Obama administration is unlikely to expend political capital offering expensive and comprehensive weapons packages to the Taiwanese only to subsequently witness them balk at actually procuring the systems.”
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, head of the US-Taiwan Business Council in Washington, stressed that the timeline for arms sales would be affected by other issues.
There will be no significant developments until the Senate confirms Kurt Campbell as the Obama administration’s new assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs. That will probably happen in the next two weeks, and when it does he will run the weapons sales program and become the “key guy,” he said.
Through next month and August, Campbell and his team will assess where they stand with present programs and develop a recommendation on selling F-16s.
That recommendation will go to the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House in early September, but Obama is unlikely to make a decision and send it forward for Congressional approval until he returns from a planned trip to China, he said.