Sun, Oct 09, 2011 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: F-16 decision shows ‘balanced strategy,’ analysts say

NO BAND-AID:Academics said the upgrade compromise would bolster Taiwan’s defense, while preserving ties with China, but might embolden China in the future

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

The latest US arms sale to Taiwan reflected Washington’s strategic thinking on cross-strait relations and the Asian region, to which Taipei should respond by fine-tuning its security-related policies to protect its national interests, analysts said.

As expected, US President Barack Obama announced on Sept. 21 that the US would help Taiwan upgrade its existing fleet of F-16A/B aircraft — but would not sell the country the sophisticated F-16C/Ds that it has requested since 2006.

“It was the use of a ‘balanced strategy’ approach by which the US wished to retain China’s cooperation on major regional and international issues while not reneging on its commitment to Taiwan stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act,” Tamkang University associate professor Shih Cheng-chuan (施正權) said.

The purpose was to exert an influence on changing cross-strait relations so that it does not evolve into a situation unfavorable to the US in Asia, Shih said.

Shih said he disagreed with the analogy that upgrading the F-16A/Bs was like “putting Band-Aids on a wound” because the items included in the retrofit package can significantly enhance the deterrence capability of the fleet, but said the sale was “more symbolic than substantial” considering the cross-strait military imbalance.

China won its wrangle with the US over arms sale to Taiwan this time around by having F-16C/Ds, which have a longer range and more powerful ground attack capability, left out of the deal, but the arms sale implied that, “for the US, Taiwan remains in a strategically important position,” Shih said.

“As far as cross-strait relations are concerned, the US does not see [it being] in its interest that Taiwan and China move toward establishing military confidence-building mechanisms or unification down the road and that Taiwan collaborates with China on ‘traditional territorial waters’” in the controversial South China Sea and Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), he said.

Beyond that, on a regional level, the US arms sale to Taiwan is symbolic of its security commitment to Asia, which could have a certain impact on the way its allies view the US across the Asia-Pacific -region, Shih added.

Lin Chong-pin (林中斌), a professor at Tamkang University and a former deputy defense minister, said Taiwan needs to grasp the “big picture” — Chinese influence is rising while that of the US is declining — behind the US decision concerning arms sales to Taiwan.

“At least one US senator has said that Washington in a way kowtowed to Beijing pressure. [But] in comparison to our fear that even an upgrade would not be granted, the deal was good news. The ‘big picture,’ however, is a new reality we have to face,” Lin said.

The deferral of a decision on the F-16C/Ds, the sale of which China has long considered a “red line” that Washington must not cross, has caused some observers to question whether the US still adheres to one of 1982’s “Six Assurances” to Taiwan — that it would not consult China on its arms decisions involving Taiwan.

Lin said he had no information on whether any prior US-China consultation was held.

However, he said that “this time around, the strength of the protest from Beijing so far was not as high as what we saw at the end of January last year [when the US announced a US$6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan]. The whole thing suggested that Washington, Beijing and Taipei in a way all have consulted with each other.”

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