Obama administration green lights Taiwan arms sale

On January 29, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) released Congressional notifications for arms sales to Taiwan worth $6.4 billion. The list of weapons systems included in the package is a legacy from the Bush administration. The sale is an important confirmation from the Obama administration that the United States still supports the security of the democratic island against military threats from the Beijing regime on the Chinese mainland.

The package includes 60 UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, 114 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missiles, 2 refurbished Osprey-class mine hunting ships, and 60 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of obsolescent U.S.-supplied destroyers and frigates. What have not been included are the 66 F-16C/D fighters than Taiwan has requested to defend its skies. Holding back these aircraft will not appease Beijing, but will weaken the balance of forces which deterrence requires. President Barack Obama should release these fighters immediately.

Communist China has threatened sanctions against the American firms involved and has suspended meetings between the People's Liberation Army and the Pentagon. The day after the DSCA acted, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to his office for what the Foreign Ministry called a "stern representation."

He Yafei pointed out that in disregard of the many stern representations made by the Chinese side, the US side has taken the wrong decision to sell arms to Taiwan....It will seriously jeopardize China's national security and undermine China's peaceful reunification. The Chinese side hereby expresses its strong indignation and makes its stern representations. The aforementioned arms sales to Taiwan announced by the US side will certainly damage China-US relations, exert a very negative impact on bilateral exchanges and cooperation in many important areas and lead to consequences that neither side wishes to see.

The reference to "reunification," peaceful or otherwise, is the heart of the matter. What counts is the opinion of the Taiwanese people, which is often left out of media reports that concentrate on the statements coming out of Beijing and Washington.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MCA) is a cabinet-level agency of the Taipei government that handles policy with China. It has been conducting regular opinion polls for many years on the three options debated by the Taiwanese people: formal independence, unification with China, or the status quo of de facto independence without a formal declaration that could trigger an attack by Beijing. A summary of poll results for recent years can be found here.

The most recent MCA poll was September, 2009. It found 19.9 percent favored formal independence now or later; 10.4 percent favored unification with China at some point; and 63.4 percent favored keeping the status quo. The popularity of the status quo, which gives Taiwan nearly all the real advantages of independence while minimizing the risks of war, has been long-standing and understandable. The key finding is the unpopularity of unification under the Communist dictatorship on the mainland, which is also long-standing and understandable.

The strategic interest of the United States in keeping Taiwan out of the control of Beijing is in complete accord with the desires of the Taiwanese people. Supplying the democratic island with the means for self-defense is proper and vital U.S. policy.
On January 29, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) released Congressional notifications for arms sales to Taiwan worth $6.4 billion. The list of weapons systems included in the package is a legacy from the Bush administration. The sale is an important confirmation from the Obama administration that the United States still supports the security of the democratic island against military threats from the Beijing regime on the Chinese mainland.

The package includes 60 UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, 114 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missiles, 2 refurbished Osprey-class mine hunting ships, and 60 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of obsolescent U.S.-supplied destroyers and frigates. What have not been included are the 66 F-16C/D fighters than Taiwan has requested to defend its skies. Holding back these aircraft will not appease Beijing, but will weaken the balance of forces which deterrence requires. President Barack Obama should release these fighters immediately.

Communist China has threatened sanctions against the American firms involved and has suspended meetings between the People's Liberation Army and the Pentagon. The day after the DSCA acted, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to his office for what the Foreign Ministry called a "stern representation."

He Yafei pointed out that in disregard of the many stern representations made by the Chinese side, the US side has taken the wrong decision to sell arms to Taiwan....It will seriously jeopardize China's national security and undermine China's peaceful reunification. The Chinese side hereby expresses its strong indignation and makes its stern representations. The aforementioned arms sales to Taiwan announced by the US side will certainly damage China-US relations, exert a very negative impact on bilateral exchanges and cooperation in many important areas and lead to consequences that neither side wishes to see.

The reference to "reunification," peaceful or otherwise, is the heart of the matter. What counts is the opinion of the Taiwanese people, which is often left out of media reports that concentrate on the statements coming out of Beijing and Washington.

The Mainland Affairs Council (MCA) is a cabinet-level agency of the Taipei government that handles policy with China. It has been conducting regular opinion polls for many years on the three options debated by the Taiwanese people: formal independence, unification with China, or the status quo of de facto independence without a formal declaration that could trigger an attack by Beijing. A summary of poll results for recent years can be found here.

The most recent MCA poll was September, 2009. It found 19.9 percent favored formal independence now or later; 10.4 percent favored unification with China at some point; and 63.4 percent favored keeping the status quo. The popularity of the status quo, which gives Taiwan nearly all the real advantages of independence while minimizing the risks of war, has been long-standing and understandable. The key finding is the unpopularity of unification under the Communist dictatorship on the mainland, which is also long-standing and understandable.

The strategic interest of the United States in keeping Taiwan out of the control of Beijing is in complete accord with the desires of the Taiwanese people. Supplying the democratic island with the means for self-defense is proper and vital U.S. policy.