The current process for considering and approving arms sales to Taiwan is not functioning well, the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific heard on Thursday from experts on East Asia.
“Long delays in consulting with and notifying Congress and refusals to accept requests from Taiwan for advanced military equipment suggests a dysfunctional arrangement,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) senior adviser Bonnie Glaser said.
The situation was harming Taiwan’s ability to maintain its ongoing force modernization, she told the hearing on the future of US-Taiwan relations.
She said that in recent years the US had been providing mostly second-hand equipment and additional munitions for systems already in Taiwan’s inventory while denying approval of new advanced platforms and weapons systems.
The root of the problem appeared to be worries that US-China relations and Beijing’s willingness to cooperate on other issues would be undermined by the sale of more advanced capabilities, she said.
“It is harmful to American interests to be so eager for Chinese cooperation that it appears willing to sacrifice Taiwan for better US-China ties,” she said.
Glaser said that such an approach sends the wrong signal to Beijing, creates anxiety in Taiwan and fosters doubt throughout the region about the US’ willingness to withstand Chinese pressure.
She urged Congress to invigorate its oversight role and encourage the executive branch to be more ambitious in promoting closer relations.
“Members of Congress should travel more frequently to Taiwan to better understand the evolving political and economic situation,” Glaser said.
“Finally, Congress can encourage the administration to sell Taiwan the weapons necessary for it to deter a PRC [People’s Republic of China] attack and defend itself from PRC aggression,” she said.
Project 2049 Institute president Randall Schriver, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for Asia, told the hearing the US should champion Taiwan’s candidacy for second-round entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
The US should also sponsor a delegation of investors and business leaders to visit Taiwan to explore investment and business opportunities, he said.
Washington should also approve an early arms package, including modern fighter aircraft and concrete support for diesel electric submarines, and keep the onus on Beijing for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Schriver said.
“Our diplomacy must strenuously reject Chinese attempts to intimidate, coerce and isolate the people of Taiwan,” he said.
Shelley Rigger, a professor of East Asian politics at Davidson College, said there was likely to be some tension in the Strait during president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) term of office — “the inevitable result of the profound difference in goals between Taiwan and mainland China.”
“As long as Beijing insists that Taiwan must accept unification there will be tension because Beijing’s demands run against the will of Taiwan’s people,” she said.
The US should redouble its efforts to keep channels of communication open with Tsai, Rigger said, adding: “US policy precludes Washington from engaging in high-level, official interactions with Taipei, but the US is free to choose a less restrictive interpretation of its policy.”