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Editorial: If American arms sales go too far they will endanger Taiwan

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

Global Times

July 9, 2019

America’s Department of Defence announced on Monday that it had approved the sale of military equipment worth approximately 2.2 billion American dollars to Taiwan. The deal includes 108 M1a2T Abraham tanks and 250 FIM-92 Stinger Man-Portable Air Defence Systems. Many American media reports pointed out that the sale occurred in the backdrop of the ongoing trade war between America and China.

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Global Times: If Taiwan tries to ‘use military might to resist unification,’ it won’t matter whose leg it clings to!

This is the fourth time during the Trump presidency that America has sold arms to Taiwan. In comparison to previous administrations, a deal to the tune of 2.2 billion is neither notably large nor particularly small. However, in comparison to the last three deals under the Trump administration, this is the largest. There has been an gradual increase in the scale of arms sales to Taiwan under this administration.

The sale of American arms to Taiwan was once limited by the Sino-U.S Joint Communiqué signed on August 17, 1982. This communique stipulated that America must gradually reduce its arms sales to Taiwan until the issue [of the sovereignty of the island] was resolved. However, America later reneged on this promise, and Bush Senior and subsequent administrations increased the scale of arms sales to Taiwan by either grand or moderately large increments. These sales, and the cycle of peaks and troughs in the relationship, became mutually reinforcing.

Today, it appears that the resolution to the issue of arms sales to Taiwan lies in contingent factors within mainland China. Firstly, because China’s military strength is growing, Taiwan’s new weapons acquisitions have in reality lost their military significance, as budgets of that scale are in no way sufficient to bring about a balance in military power across the Taiwan Strait. Secondly, mainland China’s growing economic strength means we [i.e., China] have other methods at our disposal to prevent others from selling weapons to Taiwan - in the past, France and the Netherlands sold arms to Taiwan, but today, America is the only seller.

America sells arms to Taiwan for several reasons: 1. to make money, 2. to maintain America’s influence over Taiwan, and 3. to use the ‘card’ of weapons sales to contain mainland China. While it is very clear to Washington that the sale of arms is no longer a means to maintain a balance of power across the strait, doing so is in line with the haughty rhetoric of the Taiwan Relations Act, and America’s policy has already moved from ‘maintaining the security of Taiwan’ to other parts of its great power game with China.

For Taiwan’s authorities, clinging to America is the foundation for maintaining its current cross-straits policy. They are clear - the PLA has already developed an overwhelming advantage over the Taiwanese military. If China was today determined to liberate Taiwan, it would be even easier than liberating Beijing [was during the civil war period]. Increasing the acquisition of military equipment from America is materially meaningless - but what Taipei is after is the psychological effect of announcing that the relationship between Taiwan and America is intimate, [and an excuse to] give a large portion of its military budget to America’s defence industry - it is like they are bowing their heads to America and paying protection money.

American sales of arms to Taiwan have long been a thorn in the Sino-American relationship. But in view of the aforementioned reasons, this problem has gradually deescalated. The Chinese mainland has more control over the situation in the Taiwan Strait. We have also maintained our self-control, and although we actually have the power to slam the negotiating table and decisively change the rules of the game in the Taiwan Strait, we have never used this power. However, this power is subtle and its effect has been gradually growing.

America’s [arms sales to] Taiwan can’t go too far - as soon as they do, there will definitely be a price to pay. We would do well to explore a daring supposition: If America and Taiwan one day engage in an arms deal that the Chinese mainland cannot accept, and the mainland resolutely announces that it will destroy equipment that reaches the island, what will happen?

We firmly believe that the first one to flinch will be Taiwan. This is because China and America can bear the cost of a conflict on the Taiwan Strait but Taiwan can’t. To avoid placing oneself in such a extreme position, Taiwanese authorities will be the first to want to avoid jumping into anything.

The security of Taiwan lies in managing cross strait relations - essentially, in avoiding entering into military confrontation with mainland China. As long as Taiwan avoids bumbling down the road of ‘Taiwanese independence’, they can definitely do this. But once they go down the dangerous road of Taiwanese independence and try to ‘use military might to resist unification’, then it won’t matter who’s leg they cling to. Mainland China has always maintained the policy of peaceful unification; more than anything, what Taiwan’s authorities should be doing is not pushing mainland China to abandon this policy.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)* has its origins in formenting street protests. We trust that their trouble making on the streets lacks a wider, strategic perspective. They have a selective approach to history - hence the don’t have a clear understanding of the cycle of the rise and fall of states. We hope that they won’t make a ‘subversive error’** that in the end brings about their own ruin. It relation to this, we must point out that they are but one step away from this.

* The party of the current president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

** 颠覆性错误 - ‘subversive error’ is a term Xi Jinping first raised in a APEC CEO Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 7, 2013. It refers to any attempt to refute the principle of ‘one China’.