U.S. Arms Sales and its Implications in the South China Sea

In the last several years, the situation on both sides of the Taiwan strait has been dramatically altered. Ties between the two adversaries have warmed as they become increasingly interdependent. The current pro-PRC president Ma Ying-jeou shies away from provocative statements directed at Beijing. Couple this with the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which has created a constituency dependent on positive ties with China, the likelihood of conflict has significantly diminished.

Juxtapose the new normal between China and Taiwan with the situation in the South China Sea. Both China’s and Taiwan’s claims in the sea are essentially the same: They both claim the “Spratly archipelago composed of islets and reefs in the form of a U-shaped line.” Perhaps counter-intuitively, this has not lead to increased tension, but has rather opened up new opportunities for Taiwan and China to cooperate. Many in Taiwan are warming up to the idea of working with China to protect “common ancestral rights.” However, this would have severe political implications for Ma who is accused of selling out Taiwan’s sovereignty, especially as the 2012 election looms. This is also a factor in Ma’s decision to accept the F-16s (and Obama’s decision whether or not to sell them); many have charged that Ma is not actively pushing for the sale, which he vehemently denies. Nonetheless, it is possible Taiwan will eventually view cooperative action with China on this issue as beneficial.

Currently, the United States is beginning to waver on whether it will sell the F-16 C/D fighter jets to Taipei. The Obama Administration is weary of angering Beijing, as hardliners pressure the government to punish Washington over the potential sale. However, American interests extend beyond the protection of Taiwan. The United States continues to pursue “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea, while simultaneously containing Chinese expansionism in the region. If Washington defers on arms sales, it will likely push Taiwan closer to China.

Asia Times’ Jens Kastner in an email:

Taipei, because of domestic politics, has to turn somewhere strategically. The electorate doesn’t like seeing a government messing it up with both sides (as it happened under Chen Shui-bian). Taiwan is weak and vulnerable so Taiwanese across the specter fear being ‘abandoned.’  But if Taipei warms strategic ties with one side, strategic ties with the other will naturally cool down to some extent. So Taipei can turn either towards Beijing or towards DC.”

If DC sells meaningful weapons to Taipei in a timely manner, Taipei will be much slower in considering CBMs with China, joint patrolling of dispute waters in the South China Sea, etc.
If DC doesn’t sell them, it will be the opposite.
The Obama Administration has announced October 1 as the deadline for the decision on the F-16s. A decision to halt the arms sales would force Taiwan to drift further from the United States and closer to the mainland, which is counter to the goals of the United States.
Though, one benefit from ending the sales could be a softer tone from China with regard to its claims to the Spratly islands. If the Obama Administration can correctly leverage the deal, China may be willing to be more accommodating to the other claimants and the United States. It depends on what China views as more strategically important.
And if Obama can swallow the backlash from the anti-China hardliners in the United States. In the end, the result may be more about politics on all sides than actual conflict-aversion calculations.
Advertisements



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s


  • The Law, Frederic Bastiat

    Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

%d bloggers like this: