Chinese leadership claims Taiwan to be a part of China. Taiwan has been governed separately from the mainland since 1949, when the American-supported Nationalist forces retreated to the island after being defeated in the Chinese civil war by the Communists.
The relations between China and Taiwan have been characterized by limited contact, tensions, and instability. In the early years, military conflicts continued, while diplomatically both governments competed to be the “legitimate government of China”. More recently, questions around the political and legal status of Taiwan have focused on the alternative prospects of political unification with China or full Taiwanese independence.
The People’s Republic of China remains hostile to any formal declaration of independence and maintains its claim over Taiwan. At the same time, non-governmental and semi-governmental exchanges between the two sides have been increasing. From 2008, negotiations began to restore the “three links” (transportation, commerce, and communications) between the two sides, cut off since 1949.
After more than seven years of calm relations between China and Taiwan, leaders in Beijing are beginning to warn that tensions will rise again if the winner of Taiwan’s next presidential election, in January, fails to make a clear commitment to the notion that there is only one China. On March 4th President Xi Jinping said “pro-independence forces” in Taiwan were the biggest threat to peace in the Taiwan Strait. His remarks were clearly intended as a warning to Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has a good chance of returning to power.
Like Israel that does not like foreign signatories to visit Palestine (Gaza Strip), China also opposes any country to ignore the Chinese control over Taiwan and asks foreign countries not to sell arms to Taiwan. .
The US government agreed on December 16 to sell Taiwan $1.83 billion arms, marking the first US arms shipment to the island in four years, and officially notified Congress of the arms deal package for Taiwan, despite resistance from China – Taipei’s rival. The agreement includes two frigates, anti-tank missiles, TOW 2B anti-tank missiles, AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles and a range of other military equipment.
The sale is significantly smaller than the $5.8 billion package approved by the United States in 2011, and it is not expected to alter the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, which has tilted in Beijing’s favor after years of large increases in military spending by the mainland, whose annual military budget is now more than 13 times greater than Taiwan’s. There’s also support for Taiwan’s capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and a weapons system to defend against anti-ship missiles.
The US State Department said the package was aimed at supporting Taiwan’s attempts to develop more advanced and asymmetric defensive abilities. The frigates were being offered at a price of $190 million as surplus items. The bundle also contains $416 million of firearms, upgrade kits, support and ammo for Raytheon’s Close-in Weapons System. The arms package is the first offered by the USA to the self-governing island in four years.
The mandate arrived after Congress passed laws approving the deal. The USA has announced more than $12 billion in arms sales to Taiwan since 2010, but none since $5.9 billion in sales in September 2011 that included upgrades for Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets. That drew a high-level diplomatic protest from Beijing, which suspended some military exchanges with the United States. It did not seriously impair ties.
US lawmakers welcomed the announcement. There were calls from both parties for more frequent arms sales to Taiwan. Eliot Engel, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the sale would contribute to peace and stability across the strait. Sen. John McCain, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the USA should avoid extended periods during which “fear of upsetting the USA-China relationship may harm Taiwan’s defense capabilities.” The USA maintained there’s no need for it to hurt the relationship, which has also been strained by China’s island-building in the South China Sea and alleged cybertheft.
In the meantime, President Barack Obama has sought greater cooperation with China on issues such as climate change, and the two sides have increased military exchanges to reduce the risk of conflict. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the USA was in contact with both Taiwan and China about the sale, which he said was consistent with US support for Taiwan’s ability to defend itself under the Taiwan Relations Act. Kirby added: “We still want to work to establish a better, more transparent, more effective relationship with China in the region and we’re going to continue to work at that.”
Even before its announcement, Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory, demanded it be scrapped to avoid harming relations across the Taiwan Strait and between China and the USA. China said such sales “damaged the peaceful growth of ties to the other side of the Taiwan Strait and Sino-US ties and said Beijing advocated Washington “to earnestly understand the high susceptibility and serious damage of weapons sales to Taiwan.”
China, which views Taiwan as part of its indivisible territory, has consistently opposed US-Taiwan weapons sales and reiterated that stance, summoning Deputy Mission Chief Kaye Lee of the US Embassy in Beijing. The statement from Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang called the deal “a serious violation of international laws as well as China’s territory and security interest.” That was followed by a formal diplomatic protest, although at a lower level than in previous such instances.
American and European Union companies are banned from selling military technology to China and Chinese companies have extensive links with major overseas firms that often have weapon-making divisions.
China resolutely opposes the sale of weapons to Taiwan by the USA. “In order to safeguard the nation’s interests, the Chinese side has decided to take necessary measures, including the imposition of sanctions against companies participating in the arms sale to Taiwan,” Zheng said. Such sanctions have been threatened in the past, although there’s no evidence they’ve had any meaningful effect.
China routinely protests about arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing considers as its renegade province. This is the first time China announced plans to impose sanctions on American firms. The White House said there clearly was no change in the longstanding US “one China” policy. Previous US weapons sales to Taiwan have brought powerful disapprobation in China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.
China urges the US to abide by the clear commitment it has made in the three joint communiques, revoke the arms sale plan, and stop military contact with Taiwan, so as to avoid bringing further damage to China-US relations and bilateral cooperation in major areas.
The brand new sales come at a period of heightened tensions between America and China over the South China Sea -made islands to maintain territorial claims that were grand. Although Washington will not recognize Taiwan as a state that was separate from China, it’s given under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensuring a credible defense can be maintained by Taipei.
US arms sales to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act and based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs,” McKeeby said. “Our longstanding policy on arms sales to Taiwan has been consistent across six different US administrations,” he added. “We believe our consistent policy has contributed to the security of Taiwan, and has also supported the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Consisting almost exclusively of defensive weapons, the military package includes anti-aircraft and anti-ship systems.
Reed Foster, a military capabilities expert from consultancy IHS Aerospace, Defense & Security, said that the US defense industry does little business with China so any action taken by Beijing was unlikely to have a big impact. “There’s nothing revelatory, it mostly 1970s technology that’s been around for decades. It’s nothing that would be used to invade,” he told CNN. The military hardware being sold is not cutting edge and is in line with Taiwan’s existing capabilities. The deal had been expected.
The arms sale, according to China, severely goes against international law and the basic norms of international relations, severely goes against the principles in the three China-US joint communiques and severely harms China’s sovereignty and security interests, he said. “No one can shake the firm will of the Chinese government and people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to oppose foreign interference,” Zheng told the US envoy.
The United States is required to provide weapons for Taiwan’s defense under a law dating to 1979, when Washington was shifting diplomatic recognition to Beijing and away from Taipei. In many ways, China’s reaction to the latest arms sale followed a familiar pattern. The last American arms sale to Taiwan, four years ago and bigger than the sale just announced, also resulted in a United States diplomat being summoned at night to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing to receive stern rebukes, as the Chinese view arms sale to Taiwan as an affront to their sovereignty. Earlier arms sales resulted in the suspension of meetings between the two militaries, which was not part of China’s initial response to the sale this time.
Medeiros, who now leads the Asia practice for the Eurasia Group in Washington, said that the timing of the sale, coming before next month’s presidential elections in Taiwan, helped to reduce diplomatic fallout from the sale.
Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, has sought to improve ties with mainland China and met last month in Singapore with President Xi Jinping of China, the first time the leaders of Taiwan and China have ever held a summit meeting. But Ma’s party, the Kuomintang, is expected to lose the presidency to the Democratic Progressive Party, which favors a more distant relationship with the mainland and the assertion of Taiwan’s own identity. The timing clearly was calibrated to avoid having to do it after the election. That would have been particularly provocative.
The weapons sale to Taiwan is subject to congressional approval. Members of both the Republican and Democratic parties have expressed support for the sale. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. China strongly opposes the US arms sale to Taiwan.
Absent from the arms package is any assistance from the USA to help build diesel-electric submarines, a top priority for Taiwan, which wants to replace its aging fleet. The proposed sale includes two Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, ships first commissioned by the United States Navy in the 1970s; data link systems; surface-to-air missiles; antitank missiles; amphibious assault vehicles; and shipborne rapid-fire guns intended to counter missiles.
The companies that manufacture the weapons systems the United States government announced now include Raytheon, which makes antitank missiles, a shipborne close-in weapons system and the shoulder-launched Stinger antiaircraft missile. Lockheed Martin makes the Javelin anti tank missile with Raytheon, which was also part of the proposed sale.
US and the European Union imposed arms embargoes on China after the deadly crackdown on student protests in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. Still, some military contractors, such as Boeing and United Technologies, have extensive nonmilitary businesses in China.
It also comes after just one-month before elections in Taiwan, where the ruling pro-Beijing party looks unlikely to win, and a historic meeting between the leader of Taiwan and China in November. “It gives hope to the incumbent party. They’ve kept relations with both China and the US warm. That’s a positive message,” said Foster. One year ago, Congress passed the Naval Transfer Act authorizing the sale of up to four Perry-class frigates to Taiwan in December 2014.
Obama signed the transfer act into law but until Wednesday, the administration had yet to notify Congress of its plans to move forward with the sale. Congressional sources and analysts consider the delay in the proper acceptance of the sales was because of the Obama administration’s desire to keep steady working relationships with China, an increasingly strong competitor that is tactical but in addition a critical economic partner as the planet‘s second-biggest market.
Washington said the deal does not indicate a change in US policy toward China that would alter normalized relations between the two countries. But the timing of the sale comes amidst heightened tensions between the USA and China due to recent Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Congress has 30 days to review the sale, but it’s unlikely to raise objections. There’s been mounting bipartisan concern that Taiwan is inadequately armed to defend itself against an increasingly powerful mainland China.