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RAY SUAREZ: Every year, Taiwan conducts military drills like these, simulating an invasion from China. It’s part of a state of alert that soldiers and civilians on the self-governing island have been living under for five decades. That’s because Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province that is and should be part of China. In recent years, China has added to its arsenal of short-range missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait. Some of those were fired in 1996 into the waters just off Taiwan. The U.S. sent warships into the area, defusing the crisis. Taiwan has reacted to those tensions by turning to Washington to buy more weapons.
HUANG SUEY-SHENG (Translated ): To ensure security across the Taiwan Strait and stability and peace in the Pacific region, Taiwan has to purchase advanced weapons. We will try our best to acquire modern weapons to protect Taiwan.
RAY SUAREZ: Legally the U.S. is committed under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.” The $4 billion weapons package that President Bush offered Taiwan today is the most expensive one since 1992, when the senior George Bush was president.
Today’s shopping list includes four Kidd-class destroyers capable of shooting guided missiles, a dozen antisubmarine planes known as P-3 Orions, as well as eight diesel submarines, which Beijing considers offensive weaponry, and a number of minesweeping helicopters, amphibious assault vehicles, and submarine- and surface-launched torpedoes.
Left off the list were high-tech destroyers equipped with so-called Aegis radar technology, the sale of which China has forcefully opposed. Washington also did not offer Taiwan state-of-the-art Apache helicopters or satellite-guided bombs known by the acronym JDAM. The White House Spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said China’s missile buildup was a factor in Washington’s offer.
REPORTER: What could the Chinese do in future deployments to affect U.S. decisions about weapon sales to Taiwan?
ARI FLEISCHER: Secure peaceful resolution of all differences between China and Taiwan, and that would include lessening the military presence that China has against Taiwan. China has reserved the right as they [say], to use force, and that indicates a certain level of threat against Taiwan.
RAY SUAREZ: But in Beijing, the government blamed the U.S. for adopting what China called a “Cold War mentality.’
ZHANG QIYUE (Translated ): If there is going to be any tense situation across the Taiwan Strait and any bad consequences to the peace and stability in Asia-Pacific region, the source is the American sale of advanced weapons to Taiwan.
RAY SUAREZ: The weapons controversy comes just nine days after the 24 Americans detained in China returned home. Further complicating matters, Beijing is irritated that Taiwanese President Chen Shuibien plans to stop in the U.S. next month on his way to Central America. Taiwan now must assess which weapons systems it wants to buy.
RAY SUAREZ: We get three perspectives on the arms sales offer to Taiwan. Retired U.S. Navy Captain Bernard Cole teaches U.S. strategy and Sino-American relations at the National War College, and he has written extensively about the Chinese navy. Wang Jian Wei is a visiting scholar at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University. He is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. And Michael Swaine is research director at the center for Asia Pacific policy at RAND, a research organization.
Well, Bernard Cole, Taiwan had a long wish list. They got a lot of it; they didn’t get some of it. What should we make of this offer of sales?
CAPT. BERNARD COLE (Ret.): I think it’s a very strong signal that the administration is going to fulfill all the conditions of the Taiwan Relations Act and in response to the increasing number of missiles that China is stationing on the Fijian Coast.
RAY SUAREZ: And you would see what significance in the fact that destroyers are on the offer of sales but not the ones that Taiwan sought?
CAPT. BERNARD COLE (Ret.): Well, the Aegis destroyer has really become more of a political symbol than a meaningful weapons system. When people discuss the Aegis destroyer they talk about it having an anti-ballistic capability, which, in fact, it does not. It may several years down the road. But right now it’s simply a fancier anti-air warfare system. The Kidd-class guided missile destroyers that the administration has made available to Taiwan are in and of themselves the most capable anti-air warfare system in the world short of Aegis and more than satisfactory for Taiwan’s present needs.
RAY SUAREZ: Wang Jian Wei, the administration in making its announcement said Beijing has nothing to fear from this sale offer to Taiwan. What’s your reaction?
WANG JIAN WEI: Well, I think that obviously this is a bad news for China. But of course it could be worse. On the one hand the United States did not sell the Aegis system to Taiwan, which was feared most by Beijing. Also, the United States, you know, withholds a couple of more offensive items on the wish list of Taiwan. On the other hand, I think many Chinese will think that the sale of submarine to Taiwan is across the red line. Basically you can argue that the sale of a submarine to Taiwan could indicate the death of the 1982 U.S.-China communiqué on arms sale to Taiwan.
RAY SUAREZ: Even with the sale of the submarines to Taiwan, if they go ahead, China will still have a vastly larger submarine fleet. Does this really change the calculus very much in that part of the world?
WANG JIAN WEI: Yeah, I think probably not — probably not overall upset the balance, but I think that the Chinese will consider the sale of submarines to Taiwan more as sort of a political signal indicating the United States is willing to further upgrade the military relations with Taiwan. So that is something I think the Chinese are worried most.
RAY SUAREZ: Michael Swaine, when you look at the list of technology on offer, what do you conclude?
MICHAEL SWAINE: Well, my general impression is that the administration walked a fine line in granting certain weapons and denying others. I agree with Bud Cole that the Aegis system is certainly not a system that I would recommend granting at this time. But I think the technologies in the other areas, particularly the Kidd class destroyers and the Orion P-3 aircraft are something that the Taiwan military needs at this point.
But my general concern about this issue is that we seem to be emphasizing increasingly the issue of deterrence in dealing with the Chinese. That is to say that the basic criteria by which we’re measuring the situation is a military one, and it’s focusing primarily on the idea of deterring the Chinese from doing certain things; I don’t think that gains us an enormous amount over the long term. I think we have to put these arms sales in a much larger strategy that’s designed to both deter and to reassure both the Chinese and the Taiwanese.
RAY SUAREZ: Michael Swaine, with these sales or without them, does either side in the Taiwan Straits think that the eventual solution to this stand-off is going to be through force of arms?
MICHAEL SWAINE: Well, I don’t think there’s any fatalistic conclusion along those lines that’s been drawn by either side, but I would say that on the Chinese side, I think there is an increasing degree of concern that over time, absent a change in the political dynamic across the strait, that China will become increasingly dependent on using military instruments to try and achieve or try and deter certain political ends — the most important, of course, being to deter the permanent separation of Taiwan from the mainland.
RAY SUAREZ: So, if you’re identifying this as a political problem, what does the added presence of these new weapons mean?
MICHAEL SWAINE: Well, as a political problem it, of course, from the Chinese perspective, it means that there are, from their view, there’s a greater degree of willingness on the part of the United States to provide some very important weapon systems to Taiwan that the United States in the past has really resisted providing.
And that is seen by the Chinese most likely as an indication that the United States is willing to back Taiwan to a greater and greater degree. And that ultimately becomes a very dangerous proposition because the fear that the Chinese have is that the United States will gradually be brought in to a relationship with Taiwan that is, in effect, a de facto security ally or security partner, not just militarily but also politically and in terms of military-to-military relations between combat forces, for example, one major red line is the issue of inter-operability. And that is really not mentioned very much in the discussion of the hardware sales. But in some regards it’s even more important.
RAY SUAREZ: What does that mean?
MICHAEL SWAINE: Inter-operability means the U.S. and Taiwan forces start contacting one another, interacting with one another in order to prepare or to discuss the idea of possible coordination in the event of a crisis.
RAY SUAREZ: Wang Jian Wei?
WANG JIAN WEI: I just wanted to add to what Michael just said is that China is worried most is that the sale of more advanced weapons to Taiwan will give a boost to the forces for independence in Taiwan that makes the Taiwanese even more difficult to come to the negotiation table with Beijing. So there is a totally different argument here. For the United States the argument is that if we keep a military balance between two sides, then more likely both sides will have a dialogue. But the Chinese argument is just the opposite. If you sell more weapons to Taiwan, the Taiwanese will be more reluctant to come to the negotiating table and there will be more tension across the Taiwan Strait.
RAY SUAREZ: But earlier Mr. Cole pointed out that the number of short-range missiles on the mainland has nearly tripled during the ’90s. Doesn’t that call for a response from the Taiwanese side?
WANG JIAN WEI: Well, you know, I think the United States wants to link these two things together, you know, the more deployment of short range missiles and the sale of arms to Taiwan. But China so far has refused to recognize the linkage. Chinese argue that the deployment of more missiles in the area not necessarily just targeted at Taiwan is a part of the overall military modernization program of China and also it is within the sovereignty right of China to decide when and where to deploy missiles. So there is a big perceptual gap between the two sides on this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: How do you respond?
CAPT. BERNARD COLE (Ret.): Well, I’ve heard that argument from the Chinese, but it’s really rather disingenuous of them to say the way they move their missiles around is not going to affect events outside of their border. Let me just note that the U.S. interest here is not necessarily arming Taiwan to some level. The U.S. interest is U.S. national security interest in that part of the world, which are basically stability and a peaceful resolution of the dispute between China and Taiwan.
China so far has been relatively unwilling to engage Taiwan with other than military pressure as far as the reunification process is concerned. It seems to me that more than 20 million people on Taiwan have to see some advantage to reunifying with the mainland if China is to achieve that result without using military pressure. I don’t think Beijing for one minute wants to use military force against Taiwan. But so far they’ve been unwilling to seek any other avenues of approach to Taipei.
RAY SUAREZ: You heard Michael Swaine suggest that this new set of arms sales makes a political settlement more complicated.
CAPT. BERNARD COLE (Ret.): Well, I think actually it increases the level of stability and hopefully would convince Beijing to seek some alternate route instead of simply building up missiles and claiming that it’s their sovereign right to do so while ignoring the unavoidable international effect a missile build-up in Fiji has.
RAY SUAREZ: You wanted to -
MICHAEL SWAINE: Could I? Just to add a point there, I agree basically with that. I think that China certainly has to assess or reassess its position in light of this kind of situation of increasing assistance from the United States. There is no question about that. China’s position doesn’t give the Taiwanese a whole lot of breathing space in terms of reaching some kind of understanding.
But my point is that we can’t just emphasize the issue of arms sales in this whole context because I don’t believe that a policy that’s focused on deterrence alone, arms sales, is going to convince the Chinese that they need to alter their behavior. It has to be combined with some set of political initiatives that are really designed to try and to some degree reassure the Chinese that what the United States is doing or rather not doing here is trying to support a Taiwan that will ultimately move towards independence.
WANG JIAN WEI: I agree with what Michael said. I think China is facing a sort of dilemma here, and on the one hand, you know, China wants to maintain a sort of a maximum or at least a minimum kind of military pressure on the transition government because every since he was elected, the President of Taiwan, China was worried that he could go further down the road of independence. On the other hand, that kind of, you know, missile deployment across the Taiwan Strait will obviously trigger the opposition in the United States to the Mainland China and also increase the pressure on the Bush administration to sell more weapons to Taiwan.
I think the purpose for China is not really to launch a military campaign against Taiwan but to try to put a military pressure on Taiwan — basically kind of a deterrence here. You don’t go further down the road of independence. But that kind of deployment has side consequences, that is, making the U.S.-China relations more difficult to handle because of this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Very briefly before we go, the administration maintains that the current tensions with China over the surveillance plane had nothing to do with this. This is on a separate track. Do you take that at face value?
CAPT. BERNARD COLE (Ret.): I agree with that. I don’t think there’s any direct relationship at all.
RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you all.