- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Even before the mid-air collision over the South China Sea caused more turbulence in Beijing-Washington relations, the arms issue was making its own waves. The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) dispatched senior officials to lobby strenuously against approval of any major items, objecting most strongly to the one heading Taiwans list: Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the Aegis battle management system. Yesterday, the Bush administration decided on an arms package for Taiwan. It did not include the controversial destroyers.
One of Beijings principal arguments is that any transfer of military equipment violates the joint communiqu of Aug. 17, 1982. In that document, the United States said that "it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan." Further, the Reagan administration agreed that arms sales to Taiwan "will not exceed, either in qualitative or quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to a final resolution."
Thus, 19 years after this communiqu was signed, China insists that the United States has no business selling any arms to Taiwan, let alone sophisticated equipment. But Beijings argument omits some crucial historical facts. Both the text of the communiqu and a public statement issued by President Reagan on the day it was released link arms reduction quite directly to PRC policy and its degree of threat to Taiwan.
Even more directly and dramatically, in a message to Taiwans then-President Chiang Ching-kuo on July 14, 1982 a message only recently made public President Reagan went further: "I want to point out," Mr. Reagan said, "this decision [on the communiqu with Beijing] is based on a PRC decision only to use peaceful means to resolve the Taiwan issue. On this point, the U.S. will not only pay attention to what the PRC says, but will also use all methods to achieve surveillance of PRC military production and military deployment. If there is any change with regard to their commitment to a peaceful solution of the Taiwan issue, the U.S. commitments would become invalidated."
The reference to "all methods to achieve surveillance" has particular resonance now, given Beijings campaign to end our intelligence-gathering flights. But the more important question is whether the PRC is committed to a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue.
So lets look at the facts. The PRC is steadily increasing the number of land attack missiles opposite Taiwan. It has been buying advanced combat aircraft, destroyers and submarines from Russia. It issued two White Papers in 2000, justifying use of military force if Taiwan delays entering into negotiations for unification. But at the same time , Beijing has turned down Taiwans attempts to get a dialogue started, refusing to enter into talks on any basis other than Taiwans acceptance of the proposition that it is a part of China and that the Beijing regime is the sole legal government of China. As Taiwan has evolved into a thriving democracy, pressure from the giant dictatorship next door has escalated.
The weapons that Taiwan wants to buy are defensive in character. Taiwan seeks to protect itself from missile attack, naval blockade and general harassment from the air and by sea. The idea that Taiwan, with its 23 million people, would want to start a war with the PRC and its 1.23 billion people, is ridiculous on its face.
The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, commits the United States to "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." It also says that the determination of what and how much to sell should be based solely on Taiwans needs. that is exactly what should have been done.

Amb. Harvey Feldman was a foreign service officer for 32 years, specializing in Asian affairs. In 1979 he co-chaired the State Department working group that prepared the initial draft of the Taiwan Relations Act.

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