DECISION ON TAIWAN ARMS SALE UNLIKELY TO CAUSE CRISIS

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (April 24, 2001 – East-West Wire)---The Bush administration's middle-of-the-road decision to sell arms to Taiwan but exclude the Aegis system was expected, East-West Center researchers said today. Although the sale will raise strong opposition from Chinese, who could have made a tactical error in focusing too much on Aegis defense, the move will not become a crisis in the overall relationship.

Christopher McNally, a China specialist at the East-West Center, noted that some Chinese analysts believe Beijing committed a tactical mistake in overemphasizing the sale of the Aegis system to Taiwan. "This opened the door for the Bush administration to sell a potent package of arms to Taiwan without being seen as directly challenging Beijing," McNally said.

McNally said he had expected the United States to defer the sale of the high-tech Aegis battle management system because it would take 10 years to deploy, and Pentagon officials had doubted whether the Taiwanese military could professionally utilize the system.

McNally also said the arms package that Washington is willing to sell to Taiwan has both symbolic and practical value. The Kidd-class destroyers are mainly symbolic, meant to balance the purchase of four advanced Russian destroyers by the Chinese. Other weapons systems are intended to give Taiwan practical defensive capabilities. "Besides the threat of a Chinese missile attack, the greatest fear is for China to establish a naval blockade surrounding Taiwan's harbors," McNally said. "Anti-submarine warfare capabilities and diesel submarines will substantially upgrade Taiwan's capability to break a naval blockade."

Shulong Chu, a visiting fellow at the Center from Beijing, said deferring the sale of the Aegis system to Taiwan did not represent a worst-case scenario for China, but he expected a strong reaction from the Chinese, who may now increase their military build-up toward Taiwan and hold a major military exercise later this year.

Chu, a researcher at the Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, said China will see the decision as the most serious move to support Taiwan's military capabilities since the 1992 sale of 150 F-16s. It may postpone or even cut off Sino-US talks on non-proliferation and security consultation. Even current negotiations on the return of the EP-3E surveillance plane are likely to be affected.

"However, the arms sale decision is not likely to develop into a major crisis affecting overall Sino-U.S. relations," Chu said. "It will not create as much negative public opinion in China toward the United States as the spy-plane incident over the South China Sea."

Christopher McNally can be reached at 808-944-7239 or mcnallyc@eastwestcenter.org 

Shulong Chu can be reached at 808-944-7241 or shulongc@yahoo.com 

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