A US academic has warned the administration of US President Barack Obama not to sell F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan, in case China reacts in an unpredictable and extraordinary way.
“Don’t sell F-16s to Taiwan — not now, anyway,” George Washington University professor Robert Sutter said.
“This is not a good time. If you push you might get an extraordinary reaction not bound by international norms,” he told the 41st Taiwan-US Conference on Contemporary China in Washington.
Asked later by the Taipei Times just how he thought China might react to a sale of the fighters — Taipei has been trying to buy 66 of them for many years now — Sutter said he did not know and could not speculate about it.
“That’s the thing — we don’t know,” he said.
Sutter caused something of a flap at the Carnegie Endowment conference with his controversial paper and statement over the fighter jets.
Senior associate in the Carnegie Asia program Michael Swaine — acting as moderator of the panel on which Sutter spoke — went out of his way to disagree with Sutter’s conclusions about Chinese foreign policy.
Swaine said he did not share Sutter’s sentiments and that China’s recent behavior was understandable.
Sutter argued that Beijing’s reaction to the Philippines and developments around the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), and to Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), was unexpected and unpredictable.
However, Swaine said the Chinese would argue that both the Philippines and Japan had changed the rules governing the contested areas and that Beijing thought these changes were “unjust and unfair.”
He said China did not like the changes and was determined to show that it was not going to accept them.
“The context makes a difference,” he said.
Sutter said he found the mix of assertiveness and peace and development in Chinese foreign policy to be “perplexing.”
“Looking at the past and what they actually do, can be more helpful than interpreting their statements of what they might do,” Sutter said.
“This makes me cautious right now because I am a little concerned about the rounds of assertiveness,” he said.
Sutter said the goals of Chinese foreign relations were clear, but that they conflicted with each other.
The strategy on one hand is peace and development, but at the same time they have “core interests that conflict with this peace and development.”
“The result is that you have constant tension in Chinese foreign policy. In the past this tension has been pretty well managed, but over the last four or five years, with the ascendance of assertiveness, you have an era of uncertainty. What will the Chinese do?” he said.
Sutter said that China was using extralegal measures to “intimidate and enforce” its position with the Philippines and Japan, while still talking about peace and development.
“Countries in the region are intimidated, they are not going to take chances,” he said.
Sutter then raised the potential sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan — a sale that China strongly protests and objects to.
“I would tell the Americans to be careful in this part of the world, because if you do something, you might just set the Chinese off,” he said.
“The implications of this are that we cannot really assume that the peaceful approach is going to continue,” Sutter said.
The professor concluded that recent Chinese behavior showed that the direction of Chinese foreign policy on sensitive issues and security could change sharply toward assertiveness.
He said the circumstances causing the change were hard to predict and could involve “widespread violence well beyond the scope of accepted international behavior.”
Sutter said those most at risk were the countries in nearby Asia with salient differences with China over sovereignty and security issues.
“The absence of strong adverse foreign reactions to China’s assertiveness and the presence of broad domestic Chinese support for such actions strongly suggests more assertive Chinese approaches regarding security and sovereignty issues in the future,” he said.