The US-Taiwan Business Council welcomes the Thursday, August 12 decision by the Obama Administration to notify Congress of three Taiwan arms sales programs related to radar upgrades for Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF). These relatively small programs – held at the U.S. Department of State since late winter of 2010 – were Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) but required congressional notification given their value of greater than US$50 million.
Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers noted, “The Obama Administration released several Bush-era programs for congressional notification on January 29, 2010. At that time, a decision was made to submit no further notifications for the year. However, that approach has caused some serious difficulties in areas of long standing bilateral cooperation, and the Council is encouraged by this apparent change in policy.”
The recent policy under both the Bush and Obama Administrations – freezing Taiwan arms sales notifications and then releasing them as packages – has had the inverse effect of its apparent intent. By creating multi-billion dollar packages that capture headlines, the policy has increased Chinese ire at such sales rather than reducing it. China has rightly deduced that the process is vulnerable to external pressure, and recently applied such pressure by threatening sanctions against American companies and by denying entry to China for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
China is employing a carrot and stick strategy with Taiwan, offering significant economic incentives with the recently signed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) while continuing military modernization and expanding the material threat represented by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – as noted in the recently released and renamed “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010”. This strategy compels a response from both Taiwan and the United States. Allowing China’s military threat to go unmet threatens any hope of long-term success in reducing cross-Strait tensions.
Both the U.S. and Taiwan must determine which actions to take in support of Taiwan’s national security, without caving to pressure from China. The August 12 decision represents a small step away from the package-freeze-notify approach, instead moving back toward the pre-2007 era in which programs went to Congress as the bureaucratic process was completed. Regularizing the Taiwan arms sales process will in the long term make support for Taiwan’s defense needs more transparent and stable.