Washington-Beijing Relations following the Arms Sales to Taipei
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 2, 2010
Barack Obama has announced that his administration will sell five types of military weapons to Taipei, totally nearly 6.4 billion USD. It will be the largest arms sale of the decade. Beijing repeatedly warned Washington not to make the sale. Following the announcement, it protested even more strongly. It has decided to suspend military exchanges and to impose sanctions against the companies involved. Observers await further actions.
Following Barack Obama's visit to Beijing late last year, Washington-Beijing relations appeared to be rosier than ever. But arms sales brought progress to a screeching halt. Why is Washington selling arms to Taipei? The high-minded answer is that Washington must maintain its commitments to Taipei's security. But the real answer is that Washington hopes to maintain its influence over Taipei.
For Washington to maintain its influence over Taipei, is both good and bad for Beijing. It is bad because international factors cannot be excluded from cross-Strait relations. When Barack Obama visited Beijing in November, Beijijng assumed the rules of the game were already clear. Washington would respect Beijing's sovereignty and core interests. Now it seems that is not the case. Since Washington is selling weapons to Taipei, Barack Obama will probably also meet with the Dalai Lama.
But from Beijing's perspective, Washington's influence over Taipei can also be good. When Chen Shui-bian was in power, Washington pulled him back from the brink, and prevented the cross-Strait situation from getting out of control. It is widely understood that Beijing is concerned about the direction of cross-Strait relations after the Ma Ying-jeou administration. It may still need to rely on Washington to maintain stability.
The way Washington maintains its influence over Taipei, can be seen from its policy toward Tokyo.
The United States Marine Corps Futenma Air Station has recently become a point of friction between the two governments. Washington insists that the Democratic Party government of Hatoyama abide by the agreements negotiated by the former LDP government, and move the base to another location on Okinawa. The Hatoyama government has run into objections from local residents as well as the the ruling Socialist Party coalition, and wants to postpone the decision. The two sides have dug in their heels. Tokyo feels that Washington doesn't understand its domestic political dilemma. Washington has made it known that it considers Tokyo even more troublesome than Beijing. Relations have degenerated to the point where the 50th anniversary celebration of the US-Japan Security Treaty was glossed over. In fact, many people in the US feel that if evem minor matters such as this cannot be dealt with, the US-Japan Security System exists in name only.
In fact, the Futenma Air Station dispute reflects the evolution of the triangular relationship between Washington, Beijing, and Tokyo. After the Democratic Party government took office, relations with Beijing became extraordinarily close. Washington has become extremely concerned. For Washington, the US-Japan Security Treaty is the cornerstone of Asia-Pacific security. At one time it was a response to the threat of the Soviet Union. After 1990, it became a response to the rise of Mainland China. If the rise of Mainland China becomes a threat to the U.S., the US-Japan Security Treaty will be Washington's most important hedge. Washington cannot allow Tokyo to lean toward Beijing.
Given a rising Mainland China, the first collision point is in the Taiwan Strait. Although Washington does not want to become embroiled in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, neither is it willing to let go. It does not want to see Taipei "Finlandized," according to its strategic perception. It does not want Taipei to lose the ability and initiative to defend itself, and be incorporated into Beijing's sphere of influence. Under these circumstances, selling weapons to Taipei enables it to strengthen security ties.
Beijing's ire is currently directed entirely at Washington. It is adopting a cautious attitude toward Taipei, avoiding direct attacks to avoid upsetting the current relaxed atmosphere. But Beijing is unhappy, and has privately complained that the Ma administration is attempting to please both sides, and taking maximum advantage of its situation.
We must distinguish between the economic benefits Beijing offers us, and the security threat it poses for us. Beijing has demonstrated goodwill toward us with ECFA. But it has not budged an inch in terms of security threats. It has not promised not refrain from using force against us. It has not reduced the number of missiles it has deployed, or changed their locations. In other words, Beijing has made no effort to reduce the threat to Taipei. Therefore Taipei has no choice but to maintain the ability to defend itself.
Negotiations over economic agreements have begun. Beijing has urged Taipei to begin political dialogue as soon as possible. But it has not relinquished the use of force against Taipei. This is not helpful toward Taipei entering political negotiations. As President Ma Ying-jeou stressed, "Arms purchases will give Taiwan a greater sense of security and self-confidence, enabling it to increase its interactions with the Mainland." This is not mere lip service. The Republic of China has a democratic form of government. Its society is diverse. In order to enter negotiations, it must first establish a consensus. If Beijing blindly opposes arms sales to Taipei, it will merely convince people that Beijing wants to force Taipei to submit.
Following the announcement of the arms sales, we see unanimous support from both the Blue and Green Camps, proving that when it comes to national security, the mainstream on Taiwan is of one opinion. Current political disputes often provoked blind opposition. Arms sales is a refreshing exception. We hope the ruling and opposition parties can find increased common ground on cross-Strait policy. Only then can the Republic of China's real interests find expression.