F-16s a test of US support: academic

STRATEGIC UNEASE::One speaker worried that cultural misunderstandings could trigger a situation that spins out of control in a way that neither side wants to see

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in WASHINGTON

Sat, Feb 12, 2011 - Page 1

A high level conference on Chinese defense and security issues was told on Thursday that if the US fails to sell advanced F-16C/D fighter aircraft to Taiwan it will send a signal to Beijing that Washington is no longer fully committed to defending Taiwan.

“If we allow the F-16 decision to just lapse, to never happen — and there will never be a good time to do it — we are at risk of appearing to downgrade the Taiwan Relations Act and to upgrade the Chinese interpretation of the Third Communique,” former US National Security Council (NSC) member Michael Green said.

Green, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the F-16s would not be a “game changer” in terms of the war fighting status, their sale to Taipei would have great importance.

US President Barack Obama is currently considering a Taiwanese request — strongly opposed by China — for 66 of the advanced fighters to modernize its air force.

A decision is expected later this year.

Green and other China experts were asked if the US military could reach Taiwan in time to help defend the nation in the case of a Chinese attack, and if the US was still able to “cope” with China’s new anti-access weapons.

He replied: “Before we think about scenarios for war fighting, we need to think about how we strengthen deterrence and dissuasion and complicate Chinese planning so that we don’t get there.”

Green told the Washington conference, organized by the Jamestown Foundation, that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) area denial and anti-access strategies would complicate US intervention in a Taiwan crisis, but that the US military would still be effective.

“We can still do what we need to do. What we should be thinking about is how do we complicate PLA planning? How do we make it difficult for the PLA to go into the leadership and say: ‘We can win this one boss,’” he said.

Green said that the US needed to demonstrate to China that there were consequences for its behavior.

He said that he could sympathize with his successors at the council — who now have to help Obama decide about the F16 sale — because it was far from being an easy task.

“It will challenge our diplomacy with Beijing,” Green said.

“But if we let this slip, we are de facto in danger of changing Chinese calculations about our commitment,” he added.

“You must prevent war before the crisis comes. That is what is most important. If you wait until the crisis comes, conflict will break out. It is harder to solve,” said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Shuai Hua-ming (帥化民), a retired general who now serves on the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Earlier, Arthur Waldron, a professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, said that relations between the US and China and between China and some of its regional neighbors had changed.

“We have passed a toll barrier, a watershed, something is different now. Something has changed in China, but we don’t know what it really is. Something is definitely going on and we don’t have a handle on it,” he said.

Waldron said that China thought of itself as the “No. 1” country and did not have the Western concept of equal states.

“Regardless of what they say, there is a deeply rooted cultural assumption that the world is hierarchal, and that by all rights China should be at the top and the other states arrayed down the hierarchy,” Waldron said.

“If you are the top country, you have to discipline those below, otherwise they will throw you off your palm tree. In international relations, the Chinese use force regularly. They never use force as the sole instrument, they don’t have a separation of political and military policy. Conditions for the use of force are very carefully prepared. An environment is created by statements, by incidents short of force, by a stress on grievances, by arguments,” he added.

When force was used, the Chinese wanted it to be “almost instantaneously decisive,” Waldron said.

“What I worry about most is that for a variety of cultural reasons, one of these incidents could trigger a situation which would then get out of control in a way that neither the Chinese nor the rest of us would want,” he said.

Assistant US Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell delivered an off-the-record keynote address to the conference.

While it was not possible under the rules to report on the speech, sources said that Campbell did not deal with issues directly involving Taiwan.