U.S. arms sale to Taiwan seen as symbolic

2015-12-16 08:25Global Times Editor: Li Yan

Transaction saves next US president future troubles in ties with China

The reported U.S. government authorization to sell two frigates to Taiwan, a year after President Barack Obama signed an act to allow the sales, will be more symbolic than substantial, analysts said Tuesday.

The Obama administration is expected to authorize the sale of two guided missile frigates to Taiwan as soon as this week, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing an unnamed U.S. congressional source. Another congressional aide added the notification was expected 'any time now,' the report said.

Bloomberg reported earlier that the Obama administration is likely to announce a $1 billion weapons sale to Taiwan after mid-December.

The Obama administration has not yet disclosed any information on the move, but the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Taiwan Naval Support Act last week, which asked Obama to submit Congress a timeframe for sending the ships to Taiwan.

The reported arms sales to Taiwan drew strong protests from Beijing.

"The Chinese side firmly opposes any arms sale from the U.S. to Taiwan," foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said Tuesday in Beijing. This position is solid, clear and consistent, Hong added.

Such sales "interfere in China's internal affairs and damage the peaceful development of ties across the Taiwan Strait and Sino-U.S. ties," he said. "We urge the U.S. side to earnestly recognize the high sensitivity and serious harm of weapons sales to Taiwan."

Sino-U.S. ties bigger concern

Experts believe that the U.S. move is purely symbolic, and Sino-U.S. ties are the current priority of the U.S..

"This move is more symbolic to show [U.S.] support to its allies and fulfill its promise to Taiwan. But the deal will not make any substantial change because the weapons the U.S. has sold to Taiwan before are outdated," Yuan Zheng, an expert with the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

No arms deals between the two sides have been signed in the past four years, Reuters reported.

The U.S. Congress passed the Naval Transfer Act in December 2014, an act that authorized the sale of at most four Perry-class frigates to Taiwan, which has said it planned to pay about $176 million for the two vessels.

Obama signed the act into law, but a year later, no action has been taken.

The Obama administration will act cautiously as the U.S. also needs help and cooperation from China, the world's second-largest economy, and will not want to sabotage the delicate relationship, said experts.

"The U.S. is not likely to stop selling weapons to Taiwan, as their ties are prominently bonded by arms sales, and the U.S. also needs to show a stance to its allies in Asia and Europe," Yuan noted.

He added that U.S. is picking a time that would least irritate China, just as a new chapter in cross-Straits relations has begun, following the historic meeting between Chinese and Taiwanese leaders Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting since 1949.

If the deal was done after Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of Taiwan's pro-independent Democratic Progressive Party, won the upcoming "presidential" election as the U.S. has speculated, the deal would have a very different implication, Yuan said.

Moreover, selling arms to Taiwan before Obama's term ends saves the new U.S. president future troubles with Beijing on this matter, Zhou Fangyin, a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies wrote in an article published in the Global Times.

Most recently, the Obama administration has been working with Beijing to forge a landmark global climate agreement that was sealed on Saturday after two weeks of intense negotiations, setting the course for a historic transformation of the world's fossil fuel-driven economy within decades.

Although the U.S. has sold many arms to Taiwan under its policy to "maintain a sufficient self-defense capability" of the region according to the Taiwan Relations Act enacted in 1979, many of the weapons are outdated and could not substantially protect the region, said Huang Renwei, vice president of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.


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