General Chen Bingde (陳炳德), chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is highly unlikely to fully achieve the goal of ending US arms sales to Taiwan during his visit to the US this week, but could nevertheless make some headway, an analyst said.
Dean Cheng (成斌), a research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said in a paper published on Tuesday that Chen’s visit was “significant.”
In addition to ending arms sales to Taiwan, Cheng said Chen also wanted to end or reduce US air and naval surveillance operations off China’s coast and end sanctions on sales of advanced technology to Beijing.
“Perhaps the Chinese side is chasing impossible goals,” Cheng said. “Yet, one is left wondering why the [US] has still made no move to meet Taiwan’s legitimate defense needs — most notably by making available the new F-16C/D and F-16A/B upgrades they have expressed interest in.”
“One can only wonder whether Chen’s visit will further delay Taiwan arms sales to the detriment of Taipei’s security. If so, the Chinese will have achieved one real goal in exchange for promises of future meetings,” he said.
Chen and seven other PLA generals arrived in the US on Sunday and will stay for one week.
Aside from visits to Washington, Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon, the Chinese delegation will hold talks with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It has been seven years since a US chairman of the Joint Chiefs met with his four-star Chinese counterpart.
The Washington Post has reported that the Pentagon was portraying the visit as a “breakthrough” in its attempts to resume military relations with China, which “Beijing angrily severed early last year” after US President Barack Obama announced a US$6 billion arms deal with Taiwan.
US military officials have told the Post they were not “kowtowing to the Chinese” and that their primary objective was to open basic lines of communication with the PLA.
Otherwise, they said, there was a risk that small security conflicts in the Pacific region could quickly “balloon into major crises.”
Insiders have told the Taipei Times that, for its part, China is making arms sales to Taiwan the central issue of the visit.
“When you see all the Chinese talking points — about mutual respect and benefits — they all come back to ‘Don’t sell arms to Taiwan.’ So in some ways, it’s nice and simple,” Cheng said.
Chen’s military position means that he ultimately has responsibility for the development of war plans and control of PLA operations in the event of war, Cheng said, adding that the US and China had very different views of the purpose of military-to-military contacts.
While the US side seeks to create rules and norms in order to make the two sides’ actions more predictable, the Chinese want to tackle strategic issues such as US relations with Taiwan.
“The US remains the strongest power in the Asia-Pacific region and it loses nothing by being willing to engage, but it should never sacrifice support for friends and allies or abandon its principles in deference to a robust US-China meeting schedule,” Cheng said.