A US sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan would not set US-China relations back “in an irreversible way,” China specialist Bonnie Glaser told a panel in Washington on Monday.
A senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Glaser was speaking at an American Enterprise Institute discussion on “US, China and Taiwan: Why the triangle might get more complex.”
Nevertheless, there would be a “harsher reaction” from Beijing than was experienced last year following Washington’s offer to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fleet of older fighters, she said.
On Monday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a press conference in Beijing that a vote last week by the US House of Representatives that required the sale of at least 66 F-16C/Ds to Taiwan “constitutes a grave interference in China’s internal affairs.”
The order to sell the fighters was included in an amendment to the defense authorization bill that has still to be considered by the Senate.
“We have noticed that the China-related amendment in this bill speculates on China’s military development and calls for arms sales to Taiwan,” Hong said. “We are firmly opposed to that.”
Glaser said: “I don’t think that the US gets so much out of the military relationship with China that we should decide not to sell something to Taiwan because it might somehow set back our military relationship temporarily.”
“More importantly,” there was a continuing ongoing discussion in Washington and Taipei about the best weapons systems for Taiwan, she said.
“Taiwan faces many different kinds of threats,” Glaser said.
She said that more accurate Chinese missiles might destroy Taiwan’s runways, making it difficult to launch or land the F-16s.
There was now “reasonable discussion” Glaser said, as to whether the F-16C/Ds were “the best way for Taiwan to spend its money.”
Some people, she said, thought Taiwan would be better off buying vertical takeoff and landing F-35s.
Others, she said, believe Taiwan should not be investing in aircraft at all.
“This is a really important conversation for Taiwan and the US to have,” Glaser said.
Project 2049 Institute president Randy Schriver said: “We do these arms sales because our law demands it, given the military buildup opposite Taiwan. If China wants to impact our decision making on arms sales, the answer is quite simple. It should reduce the threat opposite Taiwan and we will respond accordingly.”
Schriver said that Ma’s “dramatic drop” in popularity since the election would limit his actions “across the full spectrum” of policy issues — but particularly in controversial and difficult areas.
At some point, he said, Beijing “may get a little more anxious and push for more progress.”
He said that while most Taiwanese supported economic ties and a growing trade relationship with China, they were “very skeptical” about political and security issues.
Schriver said that if there were going to be any breakthroughs in the cross-strait relationship, he would not expect to see “a lot of evidence” in advance.
“A lot of diplomacy between the two sides is going to go deep, deep, under — because we are moving into the more sensitive areas,” he said. “Talks about political issues and security issues will be very private, very quiet.”
If there was to be a breakthrough, it would come suddenly “as a result of secret diplomacy,” he said.