Taipei Times: China continues its military buildup and advances its offensive weaponry. Taiwan can only purchase defensive weapons from the US, which is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan. Do you think the US will stop selling arms to Taiwan if Taiwan-China relations continue to improve?
Srikanth Kondapalli: In the recent period, we have seen coordinated development in terms of defense budget increases. As the GDP of China increased, to US$5.8 trillion, so did the defense budget. The latest one was a 12.7 percent increase [to the military budget].
The Chinese have not suggested why they have been increasing the defense budget, except to suggest that this is a reaction to the Pentagon budget, which is more than US$700 billion. So if that is the criteria for matching up with the US’ defense budget, I think we may see a lot of destabilizing tendencies in Asia and beyond.
In the arms sales to Taiwan so far, the US has not given it any offensive weapon systems. What it means is that first, the alternative for Taiwan is indigenous development in which Taiwan has made substantial progress on several weapon systems. Secondly, to put pressure on the American public and through this also put pressure on the US Congress, which is to authorize the US president to supply arms.
China has been using three kinds of warfare, which are psychological warfare, legal warfare and propaganda warfare. Among these three wars, China has been successful relatively in terms of the propaganda warfare with the suggestion that if the US comes to the rescue of Taiwan in military means, then China will use all its assets, including nuclear weapons.
China has created this fear in the US in terms of the deployment of aircraft carriers. If you compare the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis when the US deployed half (six) of its aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Strait to 1995 and 1996 when the Chinese launched missiles, the US deployed only two aircraft carriers, meaning there has been a reduction in the number of aircraft carriers they will be able to pitch against China in the event of a war related to Taiwan.
All these indicate a gradual transition. Also, China has become the second-largest economy, which means that the Group of 2 [China and the US] will be dealing with the international and regional security issues.
Will the US cut down on its arms sales to Taiwan? That depends first on US public opinion. Secondly, it depends on the US Congress resolutions. Thirdly, it depends on the assessment by the US regarding the balance. If it is shifting toward the Chinese as it is now, then possibly the US Congress will have to discuss these issues by supplying more arms to Taiwan.
In terms of the arms budget, while the initial estimate was about US$18 billion, the US has only cleared about US$6.8 billion. So we can come to the conclusion that there is indeed a substantial reduction in the US arms supplies to Taiwan as compared with the previous estimates, say, about four years ago and last year’s arms sales.
TT: As China develops closer ties with Taiwan, it threatens to breach a ring of US allies that effectively contain China, giving it unimpeded access to the South China Sea and the international trade lanes that run through it. Do you agree that this is a danger? Insofar as the world wants closer ties across the Taiwan Strait, and so less chance of a military confrontation, what alternatives are there?