Inside the Ring

Taiwan arms sale

Sen. John McCain criticized the Bush administration this week for holding back key weapons in its package of defensive arms to Taiwan that was announced to Congress. The Republican presidential candidate also said the arms package was on hold for “too long.”

Mr. McCain said in a statement that the weapons sale is a step in the right direction. “I have long supported such sales in order to strengthen deterrence in the Taiwan Strait and to help preserve the peace,” he said. “American interests in Asia are well-served through faithful implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, and if I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will continue the long-standing and close ties between our peoples.

“I note that the administration has refrained from providing all of the elements requested by Taiwan for its legitimate security requirements,” Mr. McCain said, noting the omission of new F-16s and submarines.

“I urge the administration to reconsider this decision, in light of its previous commitment to provide submarines and America’s previous sales of F-16s,” he said. “These sales - which could translate into tens of thousands of jobs here at home - would help retain America’s edge in the production of advanced weaponry and represent a positive sign in these difficult economic times.”

Mr. McCain said the United States should pursue good relations with China, but added that “however, we should understand that the possibility of productive ties between Taiwan and China are enhanced, not diminished, when Taipei speaks from a position of strength.”

“I believe that America should continue to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan in the future, in accordance with its security requirements, and stand by this remarkable free and democratic people.”

The senator’s comments are viewed by China watchers as a hint that a McCain administration would be less conciliatory toward Beijing and friendlier to Taipei than the current team of China policymakers.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to comment on the arms package, and a Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, also issued a statement welcoming the arms sale but without mentioning the need to sell F-16s and submarines.

Campaign spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said the arms package was an important response to Taiwan’s defense needs, including “maintenance of a healthy balance in the Taiwan Strait.”

Mr. Obama thinks bolstering Taiwan’s defenses can help reduce cross-strait tensions. The senator also said he regretted China’s decision to suspend military relations with the United States because of the arms sale.

The Bush administration offered Taiwan a large arms package in 2001, but political wrangling in Taiwan blocked purchases for years. Then, when Taiwan’s Legislature recently approved an arms budget, the Bush administration imposed the freeze before the Olympics to avoid upsetting Beijing. Critics in Congress said the freeze appeared to violate the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the United States to supply defensive arms to Taiwan.

The $6 billion arms package announced Friday includes offers of 30 Apache attack helicopters, 330 Patriot Pac-3 missile-defense interceptors, 32 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and upgrade equipment for E-2 surveillance aircraft.

Beijing reacted to the arms sale by suspending military exchanges with the Pentagon.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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