If China significantly reduces the number of missiles it aims at Taiwan — a move that was hinted at last week by Chinese Premier Minister Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), though without any timeframe — the US can be expected to cut arms sales to Taiwan, a Washington conference was told on Tuesday.
“It just makes sense: If the military threat was reduced, of course it would have an effect on arms sales,” said former Pentagon official Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute.
In one of the first public discussions on the subject by US experts gathered at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Stokes said the best move China could make to stabilize the situation in the Taiwan Strait would be to renounce the use of force as a means to resolve differences with Taiwan.
Stokes said that at a minimum, the five missile brigades now facing Taiwan should be moved back or, preferably, redeployed far from the Strait.
However, he said it was imperative that the “entire infrastructure” supporting the brigades should be moved with them.
This development would decrease the Chinese threat to Taiwan, Stokes said, adding that Taiwan faced the most stressful and most significant “military challenge in the world.”
“It would have a significant operational effect on [China’s] ability to carry out military -operations,” Stokes said.
Although there was no way to be sure if Beijing would ever order the missiles to be moved, Stokes said, they might try to give the appearance of reducing the threat by destroying some of the older missiles and claiming to retarget others.
It would not be appropriate or viable for the US to negotiate with China over arms sale to Taiwan, but if Beijing reduced its military threat, it would make “all the sense in the world to reassess Taiwan’s military requirements,” Stokes said.
None of the other experts present disagreed with him.
Dean Cheng (成斌), a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said the problem with redeploying missiles was finding a place to put them.
No matter where the five -missile brigades and their infrastructure were sent — closer to South Korea, Japan, India or Russia — “you are going to have some extremely antagonized neighbors,” he said.
Asked by journalists in New York on Sept. 22 about the possibility of China removing some of the about 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan, Wen said that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) provided a foundation for talks on issues, including military confidence building.
“I believe that [removal] will eventually happen,” the premier said, without providing any context or timeline.
There has since been speculation in circles close to US President Barack Obama’s administration about how the US would react, and if the subject would be raised during two days of talks this week in Beijing by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Michael Schiffer.
Schiffer was in China to lay the groundwork for renewed high-level military-to-military contacts with the US, which were suspended in January to protest Washington’s decision to sell US$6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan.
Writing in the Washington Post this week, Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said: “We underestimate the importance of what is occurring between China and Taiwan.