US arms sales to Taiwan are very likely to be discussed when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is expected to become China’s next leader, visits Washington next month.
As announced this week, Xi will meet in the White House on Feb. 14 with US President Barack Obama and US Vice President Joe Biden.
A Washington-based diplomatic source said on Tuesday that the US would not raise Taiwan during the talks, but that the Chinese side would “almost certainly” do so.
He said the US would again cite its legal obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with defensive arms.
Washington is anxious to establish a close relationship with Xi and will try to avoid any confrontation. However, the source told the Taipei Times that Xi was expected to emphasize his country’s “displeasure” at arms sales for Taiwan.
Some clue as to just how the US could react to such pressure can be found in an article published this week on the Carnegie Endowment Web site by former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Douglas Paal.
He said that future arms sales would depend “in large measure” on how China’s “threatening posture evolves.”
Paal said that China should use the re-election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to “reassess” its continuing military build-up opposite Taiwan and also reconsider the limits it has set on Taiwan’s participation in international space.
Paal said that for years Beijing officials have deflected suggestions of change by arguing that if China “shows any give,” the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) might come to power, pocket the benefits and pursue independence.
“Now that the DPP has lost, Beijing needs to reconsider its policies in order to reinforce the approval of Taiwan’s people for Ma’s pragmatic approach,” Paal wrote.
In Taiwan for the elections, Paal openly praised Ma’s policies while criticizing the DPP presidential candidate, party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
As a result, Paal was accused of interfering with the elections and it was reported that AIT Director William Stanton called off a meeting with him.
There was some speculation that Paal was merely reflecting what he knew to be the White House position.
“The sensitive issue of American arms sales to Taiwan will not disappear. President Obama approved more than 12-billion dollars in sales during his first term,” Paal wrote in the article.
“The Taiwan Relations Act mandates further provision of defensive arms and services,” he wrote.
Paal said that if Tsai had won the presidential election, it might have had “unpredictable effects” on China’s internal politics.
“[Chinese] President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has staked much of his legacy on a policy toward Taiwan that puts peace, patience and economics first, rather than direct threat and intimidation,” Paal said.
“As Chinese politicians jockey for position in the succession to a new generation of leadership at the eighteenth Party Congress in the autumn, Taiwan might otherwise have become a contentious issue and policy conceivably toughened,” he wrote.