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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 08:56 GMT 09:56 UK
Arms to Taiwan: Did the US get it right?
The US has angered China by approving the sale of weapons to Taiwan.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway republic. The sale is likely to further strain relations between the two nuclear powers, already tense after this month's spy-plane incident.
Although it was one of the largest arms deals made to the island in a decade, the US did refrain from approving the sale of ships equipped with ultra-modern radar systems, acknowledging it would be unnecessarily provocative.
So, did the Bush administration strike the right balance? Were they right to risk China's anger by selling this equipment to Taiwan?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
As a Taiwanese, I am also a Chinese at the same time! The case between Taiwan and mainland of China is a Chinese matter which does not concern other countries. I believe the Chinese can deal with it well in the future. Please remember that it is no one else's affair, especially the American government.
Chee Kin Chan, Singapore
The US has shown what the world would be like with it as the sole superpower. It is not bound by any treaty it has committed itself to. It can unilaterally mete out punishments without the UN Security Council's approval. It alone will decide whether millions of children will live or die with the economic sanctions it imposes, and it decides which country can arm itself and to what extent. Bush is not trying to strike a balance between Taiwan and China. He is showing that the rest of the world is under the USA thumb. The world will not be a safe place for you if you are not American, unless you are prepared to suck up to the US.
Let's be rational. The point is, no matter what and how many advanced arms Bush sells to the Taiwanese, it certainly will have little impact on protecting the small island, if we compare the military force between China and Taiwan, and if China were to invade Taiwan by force. So, a little help vs. further strain on relations with the Chinese. From a "rational economic view", is it worth it? I would consider it as a political move rather than really wanting to protect the Taiwanese.
Selling arms to Taiwan would do little or no good to either the Taiwanese or the Americans, but would risk America's own benefits from China.
The US wants global domination and takes care of every point that can threaten this. We are in the first period of history that has just one global power dominating. But we cannot accept cultural hegemony or the like. The US isn't the "sheriff of the world". Leave the Chinese alone.
John Chiang, USA
In fact most Chinese did not worry about the sales at all, instead it can be viewed as positive as well. Firstly it will be easier for China to access these technologies after the weapons are delivered to Taiwan; secondly, arm sales only weaken the economy of Taiwan; thirdly, arm sales change nothing between the position of the mainland and Taiwan. No matter how many new weapons it has, Taiwan still cannot fight. Remember, rich can never fight with poor, and Taiwan is so small there is no place to escape.
William C. Soule, USA
I think the US has every right to proceed with the sale of the warships, as this is an act of support towards its ally. The sale can indicate to China that its increasing aggressiveness towards other nations will not be tolerated let alone its perception that it can order the rest of the world to distance themselves from Taiwan - a major regional democratic economic player.
America has tried to be a quiet isolationist country before, especially before World War I and World War II But I guess they finally learned their lesson. Protecting ones allies with arms is a natural thing to do, not for the present situation, but for the future.
If Taiwan is an American "puppet" then it is only because the alternative, to be a Communist "comrade", would be so much worse!
Much of this discussion leaves out a key fact - China would most likely not want to directly invade Taiwan and have thereby a disastrous effect on its economy - it is precisely the economy that China and the US covet. Like any nation, it can bluster about its national pride as much as it wants but will likely approach questions of wealth in much more pragmatic terms. The behaviour of the U.S is unhelpful but entirely predictable.
Taiwan should be respected as a free and pro-west nation, the USA and the UK should not be afraid to sell her weapons of defence. We should all stand up to China and no what is right. We can't defend Kuwait and leave Taiwan who is wealthier more populated and democratic.
I support President Bush position on this matter.
China had in the past "invaded" Tibet. Thousands of ancient monasteries were destroyed and many more Buddhists murdered in course. Following that, China invaded India and is still pressuring India on Sikhism while holding large areas that were part of India. President Bush is right in putting China in its place. We should recognize the territorial integrity of Tibet and Taiwan. Nazi Germany tested the allies on a similar matter to Czechoslovakia and Poland. Have we learnt anything from our history.
There always seems to be three sides to a story. Their side, our side, and the truth.
The United States does have an obligation to protect Taiwan out of principle and the need not to appease. Chinese are taught nationalism and to harbour feelings of insecurity.
It is an extremely dangerous combination and I do not want to loose their respect by appeasing them. If we do, they really will believe the United States (and western civilization)
are nothing more than paper tigers. I am sad to see how easily people forget China's past actions. China will one day become a world
superpower. It is important that the world makes certain now that the Chinese realize
what a great responsibility that is as well as the terrible burdens that it carries... and if it
doesn't new alliances will be made, but the world could be a scarier place.
This is no time to begin creating spheres of isolation, hostility or influence under threat of arms. As for Taiwan, there is no good reason for China to invade it because to do so will unleash other forces in the area. It is not in China's best interests to offend Asia and undermine world equilibrium by steaming across the Taiwan Strait. If China chooses this gambit, it will have effectively declared a war on coexistence not only with the US but with many other nations. But if China is on a course of garnering more prestige and negotiating capital, then this is the way to go.
Ash Carrier, US
Since the end of cold war, China has procured plenty of advanced weapons from Russia. The quantity and quality is increasing in the coming decade, resulting in an unstable balance across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan has to fight independently once being invaded (Taiwan is not Kuwait or Vietnam waiting for the US's rescue). Without these sophisticated weapons, are you guys who live in a free region without a neighbour's intimidation, coming to defend us?
I would not be surprised if China and the USA were in a war in the near future. I think people forget what war is like - not these conflicts, but a big war. If China gets Russia involved and the US calls in its allies, we are looking at something that could feasibly destroy our planet. It's time to find common ground between our two countries. I don't think the USA is perfect, and I don't think China is perfect. It's time to discuss what is beneficial for our world, and not individual interests.
Kudoo X., Nanjing, China
By law the US is required to sell Taiwan weapons each year. Taiwan makes up the wish list and the US decides what it wants to sell. There are three scenarios for Chinese action against Taiwan: missile attack, invasion and blockade. Invasion isn't likely, missile attack would cause more political damage to China than anything else, but naval blockade is very realistic. It would do terrible damage to Taiwan, whose economy is deeply dependent on trade. And it would upset the balance of power in the Pacific. That's why the Bush administration decided to sell the submarines, but decided the Aegis system was too politically sensitive to sell and not immediately crucial to Taiwan's survival.
No person, outside of China, believes that Taiwan is an internal matter for the Chinese government; it has been an independent country for 50 years. The issue of "internal affairs" is an excuse that world dictatorships often use to justify their excessive actions to maintain power against dissent. On a more important note, some people have blasted the US as a bully, but they should not use China as counterpoint -- one should ask the people of Tibet, India, and Taiwan who the real bully is.
Taiwan and mainland China are technically still in civil war after the Nationalist party was defeated and fled to Taiwan island 50 years ago. They've just ceased fire in the last 30 years, but it doesn't mean that Taiwan is an irrelevant and innocent neighbour to mainland China, claiming that it's threatened unreasonably. It's not right for US to sell arms to any party involved in civil war and let them fight.
If given a free vote in China, uninfluenced by government, people will still definitely vote against US's arm sales and vote to fight if Taiwan declares independence. This is because of Chinese tradition to keep a big UNITY, whether to a family or to a country. I believe most people in mainland China prefer to reunite with Taiwan to make a greater China, instead of fighting with their Chinese brothers.
Dave Adams, USA
Who in their right mind thinks the US has any will to launch an attack on China? Do we really still live in an age where people still think China is still a pushover? The facts are these: China is the superpower of Asia and its economy is amongst the fastest growing anywhere in the world for the past decade. Both sides have a great deal to lose in any conflict, both militarily and economically. After the Vietnam and Korean wars the US learnt a very valuable and costly lesson, which is that to get anything done in Asia requires the consent of the Chinese. Why else do you think that so many successive US administrations have taken a diplomatic stance towards Beijing? Bush's hawkish comments just show his arrogance and lack of experience in international affairs.
Money is not the reason; there are safer ways to get gold than by stealing from a dragon's lair. As for US "bullying," remember that the US would not exist but for people who fled persecution and oppression. While I am cynical about my government, my ancestor signed the US Constitution, and I believe in freedom. War with China? God, no. Bush is not smart, and US policy is flawed and hypocritical, but it is hard to live with a dragon: too powerful to ignore, too dangerous to let take flight. Let us be wary and work for peace, but not cower and hope the dragon doesn't feel peckish.
Chris Wang, United States
There is no 'right' or 'wrong' in this case. The US cares about money matters. Taiwan worries about its safety. And finally China has its own plan in hand - who knows what it is?
Has anybody noticed that China deployed hundreds of missiles towards Taiwan? Nobody would be foolish enough to spend so much money on arms for no substantial purpose. The enormous courage and endeavour the Taiwanese people showed to the world in the past 53 years deserve due respect. People should pay more attention to China's recent vast increase in her defence budget. To show goodwill China should unilaterally renounce the possible use of force to resolve the Taiwan issue, and downgrade missile deployment along her southeast coast as the first step. If that would be the case, then people can argue that Taiwan does not need to buy advanced equipment for national defence.
I applaud the courage of the Bush administration to do the right thing. As a Taiwanese, I can speak for myself and for those I know living in Taiwan that we DO NOT, or ever, want to be a part of China. To those armchair pacifists and non-profiteers: sorry that this world isn't any rosier, but do not speak of peace, environment or the evil of profit at other people's expense.
Selling arms to Taiwan could be the most stupid thing George W Bush could have ever invented in his less-than-one-hundred-day political career! After the Chinese Government embarrassed him in front of the whole world after the spy plane plot, this could be the best way to take revenge from the Chinese. But no matter what, Taiwan is always a part of China. We just let Bush play his game.
Considering China effectively used the American airmen as hostages in return for an unfounded apology, I consider the arms deals to be somewhat restrained. Mr Bush has made a very wise decision.
President Bush has acted prudently in approving arms sales to Taiwan. China is being increasingly seen as a bully who has several territorial disputes with multiple nations. China is not a democracy and its human rights record is below compliment. It is important to convey a strong message to Communist China and the message is: Watch out---you have your limits too!
The balance of power in SE Asia is already swinging towards China, with the purchase of Kilo class diesel electric (SSK) submarines from Russia. With Chinese SSK's positioned off Taiwanese waters, the risk of an incident with US carrier groups increases. Selling US weapon systems to Taiwan goes someway to creating an equilibrium in the balance of power.
Anyone who thinks this American action is only motivated by profit has obviously not given it any thought, but is acting out of irrational and instinctive anti-Americanism. Any profit - which goes to different corporations and not the US government - would be a drop in the bucket for the American economy. Eight European-made subs and four destroyers are not going to make the slightest difference economically to the US, or financially to those who made the decision. If money was the motive, the US would sell Taiwan anything they wanted - we clearly do not do even close to that.
George Tan, Singapore
This is an instance of the elected government of one democracy selling defensive weaponry to the elected government of another democracy. The people of these two nations have decided, by vote, who their leaders are, and thus who makes these decisions. The sale is opposed by the Communist government of China, whose people have no real power to decide who their leaders are. The Communist Chinese Government would prefer Taiwan as militarily weak as possible, so they may more easily be bullied. Without US weapons and support, China would have taken over Taiwan long ago. This is a correct and proper choice by President Bush, whom I did not even vote for.
We have a long relationship with Taiwan and it is a democracy. Not a single square foot of democratic soil should ever be ceded to China without a fight. Bush should have done more than he did. We should have agreed to sell the Aegis-equipped ships to Taiwan. At least he committed to Taiwan's defence against Chinese aggression, although it remains to be seen if the US has the military resources to make good on that pledge.
Charlie Ling-Tow, USA (formerly Taiwan)
This is what happens when an American President is voted in on the strength of the number of balloons released in the pre-election campaign and then remains a puppet to his advisers. This is just another step in America's continuing gung-ho attitude to the rest of the world where money, glitz and international muscle matter over the best interests of the rest of the world.
When will they be cut down to size?
The Taiwanese would be naive to see the USA as a friend - Saddam Hussein thought that in 1979. Arms are not sold to defend countries in peril from tyranny, or countries that support Western democracy, or countries that make valuable products. Arms are simply sold to whoever has the biggest chequebook open at the time.
Tatt Chua, UK
It is just another short-sighted blunder by Bush and completely destroys the fragile relationship between the two nations that has been very slowly and carefully built up since the Nixon administration. President Bush seems hell-bent on destroying all foreign policies created in the last 30 odd years and determined to re-introduce the Cold War era for no logical reason. It is just another selfish act on behalf of the Americans with no thought for any of the repercussions that could affect the global political balance of power.
Put away all the talk about American hegemony, and imagine what you would want if your family lived in Taiwan. Wouldn't you be thankful to America for providing arms to keep your family safe from a threatening country?
Every time the US is mentioned in a talking point, we see a fresh crop of irrational anti-American comment. Invariably it originates from individuals who are desperate to demonise the US, yet happy to align themselves with regimes which routinely abuse human rights, such as Iraq and China. Yes, American foreign policy is often flawed, and of course they look after No 1 - who doesn't - but generally, and in spite of its unmatched military capability, America is a benevolent power. If you doubt that, ask yourself how safe the world would be if the present Chinese administration enjoyed America's military dominance. These are the people who invaded Tibet and sent tanks into Tiannenmen Square.
Many seem quite happy to point to China as a bully and human rights abuser, while the US is portrayed as the land of democracy and freedom. I would say it's pretty clear that the US is the biggest bully and human rights abuser of them all, only it's citizens have "democratically" voted for such abuse of power, so that seems to make it ok in their eyes.
The USA arms sale might be a good deal to make money, and keep Taiwan happy. We don't know what will happen tomorrow, Taiwan leaders may change their mind and be part of China again, then China will have all access to the advance weapons that USA have been selling to Taiwan over the years. China is not stupid, they have clever people who can use technologies for war or for economics. At the end of the day, the arms sales may be used against the US. Who knows, Taiwan, may already be sharing US weapon technology with China already.
China is a bully and a threat to all freedom loving people. I cannot believe that anyone in the West would oppose a measured arms package to a fellow democracy that is threatened by a totalitarian regime.
Taiwan is nothing more than an American satellite state.
The selling of arms is designed to strengthen the country's hand in SE Asia.
The growing domination of world politics by American government policy is not a good thing.
Whatever people think of the Chinese government, it is important that somebody stands up against this American world domination.
The arms sale brings more danger to Taiwan and injects instabilities into the region. But I suspect that is exactly what the USA is plotting. It has always advanced its own interest and harvested profit from planting and inciting conflicts across the globe. Then its role as the global police is also justified.
As a Taiwanese, I am grateful for US support even if they do profit by it. Just because a country or person is the biggest and strongest doesn't mean they're always bad or wrong. Thank you Mr Bush!
James Hartwright, UK
A key factor is that America must sell weapons to Taiwan as part of the 'Taiwan Relations Act'. That was Taiwan's pre-condition for America switching its recognition from Taiwan to mainland China in 1978.
China wants to preserve its ability to manoeuvre independently. The US tries to continue its worldwide hegemony. We are faced with an emerging superpower which is the main point of resentment by the United States.
Taiwan is playing with fire. It will never be able to claim independence no matter how advanced the weapons it gets.
How can there be anything 'right' in an arms deal like this?
Patrick Dean, Belgium
The US has yet again demonstrated its ability to instigate difficulties in Sino-US relationships by way of supplying arms to Taiwan. I am by no means an advocate of communism nor do I support China's poor human rights record, yet I despise the manner in which the US is trying to exert its authority as the world's so-called 'policeman'.
I am perturbed by the comments of Jeff Scholey, UK and Erik, USA as to using Taiwan as a launch pad for attacks by the USA on China. I think they are misinformed in thinking that the USA would ever consider attacking the Chinese mainland, even if China invaded Taiwan. The PLA would undoubtedly overrun Taiwan before the USA could mobilise its forces to counter such a move and the only viable military option open to the USA would be to try to liberate Taiwan, but I doubt they would even risk this.
Whether TW is a sovereign country or part of China is irrelevant, the people have a right to live the way they choose (as they have for 50 years) and not to have to worry about the constant intimidation from their neighbours. These sales go some way towards that. Historically, appeasement has never been a good tactic.
I would personally say that Bush has got the current arms sales exactly right. The Aegis system would not be ready for many years, whereas Kidd is. The Taiwanese definitely need to increase their military capabilities before they get the Aegis system. Furthermore the diesel subs that Taiwan wants will enable the country to threaten a prospective invasion fleet without destabilising the region.
Expensive arm sales will never ease the tension across the Taiwan Strait. Nevertheless, it will strengthen the confidence of the Taiwanese to pursue the values of freedom, democracy and social justice.
To answer the question of whether the US got the arms sales 'right': For Taiwan: not entirely (they wanted more). For China: certainly not. For the US: of course - they make billions on the deal, don't push the Chinese TOO far and keep Taiwan open for business... which is all they care about. Will we be seeing any arms sales to Tibet, which doesn't manufacture cheap computer components for the West? I think not.
Bush has made it clear to the world he is pursuing an "America First" policy. From a purely American point of view, the deal makes perfect economic sense. The question for Bush is, 'how much is a good relation with China worth?'
China has more than proven itself as a regional bully in the past and the present. Who can forget what the country did to Tibet and the 1962 aggression against India? Bush has so far done a good job, it is important to contain a bully.
The Bush Administration is absolutely wrong. Whether people admit it or not, there is no doubt that Taiwan is part of China.
The Aegis-system was not sold to Taiwan because Taiwanese military experts have warned that the system's implementation would severely overstretch the island's military and financial means, thus making it more vulnerable to China's potential threat.
Chris Jackson, UK
I think Bush may have done something wrong with selling this weapons package to Taiwan especially during this dried out business of the spy plane. Bush must learn that trying to help allies is great but putting them into danger by selling them weapons won't help stabilise the already angry Pacific.
Whilst China threatens Taiwan and its people then the US is right to supply them. Taiwan is not looking to invade anyone or to cause harm, it simply requires the means to protect itself.
Given that the US does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country, the arm sales should not have even be carried out in the first place. It will be interesting if, hypothetically speaking, China now decides to sell the same type of ships to Cuba, a sovereign country. How then, will the US interpret this action?
This is exactly the reason why China should not be persisting in a power struggle with the US. Taiwan is a tactically brilliant move by the US, a good launch pad for attacks on China if it were necessary. It's no wonder China is upset and angry
20 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan repels mock Chinese attack
20 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
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16 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China builds new missile base
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