A US expert on China said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely refuse to make a deal on arms sales to Taiwan when she visits Beijing later this month. But a compromise — based on President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) pro-China policies — might be reached.
Bonnie Glaser, a specialist at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said China would probably ask the US to end arms sales to Taiwan in return for restarting its military-to-military relationship with Washington.
Beijing ended the “mil-mil” contacts last year after former president George W. Bush announced a new arms sales package to Taipei.
Speaking at a special CSIS briefing on Clinton's upcoming six-day Asia trip, Glaser said: “The Chinese are certainly pleased that she is heading out to the region very early. Human-rights issues will not be a centerpiece of this visit. It is very much a tone-setting visit for what is a complex agenda and relationship.”
Glaser said that if the trip were successful it would pave the way for US President Barack Obama's first meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), which will take place on April 2 at an economic summit in London.
“As of October last year, when the Bush administration sent some notifications to Congress for arms sales to Taiwan, China suspended not only the mil-mil exchanges but also dialogues with the US on proliferation and security issues,” Glaser said.
She added: “So one possible — and I think useful — step would be for the Chinese to agree that resuming these dialogues and these exchanges are in the interests of both of our countries. But if the Chinese expect that they will receive a promise from the administration that it will not sell arms to Taiwan in the future, I don't think they are going to succeed.”
Asked what would persuade China to restart mil-mil relations, Glaser answered that “undoubtedly” Hu would raise the Taiwan issue with Clinton.
“There will certainly be a desire on the part of Beijing to hear the new administration state its position respecting the one China policy and the three communiques, and perhaps say something in support of the improving relations between the two sides of the Strait,” she said. “I expect that Secretary Clinton would be eager to do that because we do see the process that is taking place as easing tensions. The economic cooperation between the two sides of the Strait is positive.”
“I personally hope she will also say something about the need for China to follow up some of President Ma's gestures with some movement on reducing the military buildup opposite Taiwan,” she added.
“China wants the United States to stop arms sales to Taiwan. But I don't think that that is really what they expect,” she said.
“My speculation is that Beijing is looking for some kind of a face-saving gesture by the United States in order to resume the mil-mil exchanges. I think the Chinese are just looking for something that will enable them to say, okay, we understand; we have a common interest in seeing peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
Asked later what kind of face-saving gesture Clinton might offer, Glaser replied that the secretary of state might say that if China reduced its military threat toward Taiwan, this would have an impact on Taiwan's attitude toward buying new weapons systems from the US, and that this in turn might lead to a reduction in arms sales.