Posted by: mulrickillion | October 15, 2011

“Strong Indignation,” but Limited Retribution: China’s Response to U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

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A Soon-to-be Upgraded Taiwanese F-16

By Michael S. Chase, China Brief, Vol 11, Iss. 19, Oct 14, 2011 —

On September 21, the Obama administration announced a long-awaited decision on arms sales to Taiwan. As was widely expected, Washington agreed to upgrade Taiwan’s existing F-16A/B fighter aircraft rather than provide it with new F-16C/D fighters. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) indicated the retrofitting of the 145 F-16A/B aircraft, including associated equipment such as Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, electronic warfare systems and communications upgrades as well as training and logistical support, would cost about $5.3 billion (DSCA News Release, Transmittal No. 11-39, September 21). Although Washington did not agree to sell the 66 new F-16C/D fighters Taipei had requested, administration officials seemed to leave open the possibility that they could offer new aircraft to Taiwan at some point in the future (Washington Post, September 16). The decision may have been a reasonable approach under the circumstances, but it drew harsh criticism from some quarters in Washington, disappointed many in Taipei and angered Beijing—though China’s reaction this time was weighted more toward rhetoric than retribution.

Explaining China’s Response

In anticipation of the arms sales decision, Chinese officials reiterated familiar warnings about the consequences for U.S.-China relations. In May, General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), indicated any U.S. arms sales to Taiwan would inevitably damage U.S.-China relations in general and military-to-military relations in particular. At the same time, however, General Chen appeared to suggest the disruption might be limited if the package did not include the items of greatest concern to Beijing—new F-16C/D fighters. "As to how bad the impact will be, it would depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan," Chen said (BBC, May 18). In mid-September, a week before the U.S. announcement, a pseudonymous opinion piece in the People’s Daily declared the arms sales process "a political farce." Further, the article warned "Any weapons deal with Taiwan will be rude interference in China’s internal affairs and will hurt the feelings of the Chinese nation and cause severe damage to China-U.S. relations" (People’s Daily, September 13).

Predictably, once Washington announced its decision, Beijing voiced its “strong indignation and resolute opposition” to the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan (Xinhua, September 22). China’s official news agency reported Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, to underscore China’s displeasure. Zhang said "The new round of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, no matter in what excuses and reasons, can not hide the intention of interfering in China’s internal affairs and will send very wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces, and will severely disturb the momentum of peaceful development in cross-Strait relations" (Xinhua, September 22). Chinese media also reported Ambassador Zhang Yesui lodged a “strong protest” in Washington. In addition, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu warned, “The erroneous practice of the U.S. will inevitably cause damage to China-US relations and bilateral exchanges and cooperation in the military, security and other fields, and the responsibility completely rests with the US side” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 21).

Notwithstanding China’s vehement rhetoric, Chinese security specialists predicted the administration’s decision to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs would not result in a complete suspension of U.S.-China military exchanges, unlike when Beijing broke off military ties with the United States in January 2010  following the last major arms sales package (New York Times, September 22). . . .

The Jamestown Foundation: “Strong Indignation,” but Limited Retribution: China’s Response to U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

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