There may be a new round of US arms sales to Taiwan next year, it was predicted on Friday at a Washington conference on cross-strait relations.
Experts refused to speculate on just what might be sold, but sources outside the conference said it was unlikely to include submarines or new advanced fighter planes.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace vice president for studies Douglas Paal told the conference that “inevitably” there would be another round of arms sales to Taiwan toward the end of the administration of US President Barack Obama.
After first saying that US-China relations had experienced a “very rocky, scratchy” year, Paal said that Taiwan had military “needs” and that there was a broad consensus in the US to meet those needs.
The conference, organized by the Brookings Institution and the Association of Foreign Relations, was aimed at analyzing “key opportunities and challenges in cross-strait relations under new domestic, regional and global conditions.”
Paal, who once served as director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and was on the National Security staffs of former US presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that it was not known how Beijing would react to new arms sales.
“How the PRC [People’s Republic of China] will react, in great measure depends on the quality of the US-China relationship that prevails at the time,” he said.
He said that currently the US-China military-to-military relationship had reached a new high in terms of good contact and interaction.
“The PRC continues to develop its military capabilities and it does not make an exception opposite Taiwan,” Paal said.
He said that Taiwan had to face China’s military challenges and that it had its own need to upgrade its weapons.
Taiwan, could not match China’s military expansion, keep a balance or develop an offensive capability, he said.
However, he said it needed a “minimum necessary defensive capability.”
Paal said that the Obama administration had an obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to consider Taiwan’s needs while at the same time it wanted to maintain relations with China.
Thus, the administration had to play a “very difficult game — more than a game,” he said.
“The administration has to meet the requirements under law to help Taiwan defend itself, and to do so in a way that doesn’t push us in the direction of unnecessary friction or conflict,” he said.
Paal said that in his opinion, next year was going to be a better year to conduct the arms sales than 2016, the year of the next US presidential election.
“But under what circumstances, and what materials will be transferred, will depend heavily on lower-level discussions on what the needs are,” he said.
Paal said that arms sales could be expected before the end of the Obama administration, but precisely when would depend on conditions.
Stimson Center East Asia program director Alan Romberg agreed with Paal’s prediction.
AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt — who attended the conference, but was not one of the speakers — refused to comment on arms sales.
Pressed by members of the media to “say something” he said: “It’s a lovely day.”
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