China will “tackle” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the question of US arms sales to Taiwan when she meets high ranking officials in Beijing later this month, a former US diplomat said.
Harvey Feldman, a distinguished fellow in China policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said Taiwan would be a major issue during Clinton’s meetings late next week in the Chinese capital.
At a Heritage Foundation roundtable meeting to discuss Clinton’s upcoming trip to Asia, the former ambassador said that while it seemed “amazing” to him, the Chinese continued to “have hysterics” over what he described as the US’ highly limited arms sales to Taipei.
He said Beijing remained angry over the issue and was ready to hammer at it.
“They are going to tackle her on arms sales,” he said.
That could have a deleterious effect on the visit, Feldman said.
A retired US Foreign Service officer, Feldman created the American Institute in Taiwan after the US broke ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing.
He also helped write the Taiwan Relations Act.
He said that in particular the US sale of F-16 fighter planes “has to go through.”
Feldman said it was in the US’ interests for Taiwan to maintain a strong defense force to deter Chinese “adventurers.”
The Patriot anti-missile system had only a 75 percent “kill rate,” he said, and China has hundreds more missiles pointed at Taiwan than Taiwan has anti-missile missiles to shoot them down.
Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said that on her first visit to the region, Clinton would not negotiate on anything.
Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at Heritage, suggested that the trip would be mostly about sending signals that Asia is important to the administration of US President Barack Obama, that allies like Japan and South Korea matter and that dialogue is important.
Feldman said Clinton should “reassure, listen and explain.”
Klingner also said Clinton should clearly articulate what the Obama administration’s objectives were on free-trade agreements.
Derek Scissors, a research fellow for Asia Economic Policy at Heritage, said Clinton was a major political figure in her own right, but that the US government was not ready to engage in serious negotiations with China.
But he said the trip was very worthwhile because it would allow Clinton to present the broad view of the Obama administration.
Feldman agreed that while no direct negotiations would take place, both sides would take careful note of what was said and Beijing would use the opportunity to “put a marker down” on Taiwan and establish it as a primary issue.
Asked how prominent an issue Taiwan would be for the Chinese side, Feldman said there was no doubt that Beijing would raise the question of F-16 fighter plane sales.
He said Clinton should acknowledge the issue, but give no indication of what the US planned to do about the sales.
The government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has requested another 66 US F-16 jet fighters, but there is no indication of how the new US administration will react.
Writing in the Taipei Times last November, professor Robert Sutter of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University said that if the sale went through, it would result in an “uproar in China-US relations.”
And that, he said, was probably the last thing that a new administration would seek “in the midst of enormous US problems at home and abroad that require extensive cooperation with China.”