US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has indicated for the first time that “China’s sensitivities” will be taken into consideration by US President Barack Obama when he decides whether to sell F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan.
Gates is expected to discuss the potential sale in talks with Chinese Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie (梁光烈) at the Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore this weekend.
During a meeting with US reporters on the way to Singapore, Gates was asked if — in view of pressure building in Congress to let Taipei have the planes — the benefits to Taiwan’s security would outweigh the costs that would be incurred to the relationship with China.
He replied: “We do have obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] and we have this discussion in virtually every meeting that we have with the Chinese.”
“I would say that I think under both the [former US president George W.] Bush and Obama administrations, we have tried to thread the needle pretty carefully in terms of Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, but at the same time being aware of China’s sensitivities,” Gates said. “I think both administrations have done this very thoughtfully and very carefully. By the same token, just as the Chinese are very open with us about their concerns, we are also open with them about our obligations.”
Asked by the Taipei Times to comment on Gates’ comments and the potential F-16C/D sale, Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, suggested that the secretary may have made an “awful blunder.”
“Secretary Gates has opened a very destabilizing question,” Fisher said. “Are US arms sales to Taiwan determined by obligations under the TRA or by China’s sensitivities? Where in the TRA does it state that the US will be mindful of China’s sensitivities regarding arms sales to Taiwan?”
“Right now, every other American treaty ally is wondering if US security guarantees are being affected by Washington’s consideration of China’s sensitivities,” he said. “If there was ever an American policy statement that deserved public repudiation, this is it.”
Fisher said that “in essence” Gates had suggested that both Bush and Obama had given a communist dictatorship the power to limit US security options in Asia.
“Is this a new US policy formulation or has Secretary Gates made an awful blunder?” Fisher asked. “The dictatorship in Beijing will be sensitive to every arms sale to Taiwan. China will never be satisfied with American concessions and war will not be deterred. It is imperative that the US move ahead with the sale of new F-16 fighters and upgrades for Taiwan’s current F-16s. China has pitched the Asian region into a dangerous arms race and selling weapons to Taiwan remains a critical American policy tool for deterring conflict.”
During his meeting with reporters, Gates was asked for his own views on the sale of F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan.
“I don’t have a view on that at this point,” Gates said.
Gates is retiring at the end of this month and will be replaced by CIA director Leon Panetta, who is expected to continue White House policies aimed at deepening a US-China strategic security dialogue.
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was asked at an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies if recent congressional pressure would have an impact on the decision to sell the F-16C/Ds.
“Every administration takes the TRA very seriously,” Campbell said. “We understand our responsibilities in that regard and we also recognize that the TRA requires a partnership between the executive and the legislative branch. The US understands our role with respect to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”