PRC on US Arms Sales to Taiwan

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/14/2007 01:55:00 AM
China's "internal" and "splittist" foes are well-known: that depraved Tibetan agitator the Dalai Lama and Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian. Recently, there have been talks about Taiwan purchasing nearly a billion dollars' worth of Patriot II anti-missile systems from the US after an earlier deal for Orion P-3 anti-submarine aircraft. Like night follows day, the PRC is once again bellyaching about how these armaments may embolden Taiwan to declare independence. That Chen Shui-Bian is keen on the political gimmick of offering a referendum on whether to join the United Nations as "Taiwan" doesn't help things, either. Chinese news agency Xinhua has the official (and rather hysterical, if I may add) take on the matter:

China on Tuesday urged the United States to immediately cancel arms sale programs, stop arms sales and military links with Taiwan.

Spokesman Liu Jianchao made the remarks when asked to comment on US Department of Defense's recent announcement of planning to sell 3 sets of Patriot II anti-missile equipment upgrade systems and affiliated equipments worth of $939 million to Taiwan.

China firmly opposes to arms sales by the US government to Taiwan, and had already raised strong objection and solemn representations to the United States, said Liu, noting that this has been a consistent and clear stance of China.

China urged the United States to take actual actions to carry out the three China-US joint communiques, honor its commitment made to China on the issue of Taiwan, and stop sending any misleading signals to the separatist forces seeking for Taiwan Independence, Liu said, affirming that China reserved rights for taking further measures.

Regardless of China's solemn stance and firm opposition, the United States took wrong actions in a row to sell the the P-3C anti submarine warfare aircraft, the Patriot II antimissile equipment upgrade systems and other advanced weapons, Liu said.

Such wrongdoing severely violated the US government's commitments made to China in the joint communique signed between the two countries on August 17, 1982, rudely interfered in China's internal affairs, endangered Chinese national security and peaceful unification, also disturbed the improvement and development of China-US relations, Liu stressed.

Noting that the Taiwan situation is highly complicated and sensitive, Liu said Chen Shui-bian's obstinate promotion of a "referendum" on Taiwan's bid to enter the United Nations, seeking membership in the UN under the name of Taiwan as well as other separatist activities attempting for Taiwan independence seriously threatened the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.

Let's parse the Chinese statement more closely. What exactly does the US-China communique from 1982 say? Here are the pertinent points:
(2) The question of United States arms sales to Taiwan was not settled in the course of negotiations between the two countries on establishing diplomatic relations. The two sides held differing positions, and the Chinese side stated that it would raise the issue again following normalization. Recognizing that this issue would seriously hamper the development of United States - China relations, they have held further discussions on it, during and since the meetings between President Ronald Reagan and Premier Zhao Ziyang and between Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr. and Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Huang Hua in October 1981.

(5)...Having in mind the foregoing statements of both sides, the United States Government states that it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution. In so stating, the United States acknowledges China's consistent position regarding the thorough settlement of this issue.

(6) In order to bring about, over a period of time, a final settlement of the question of United States arms sales to Taiwan, which is an issue rooted in history, the two Governments will make every effort to adopt measures and create conditions conducive to the thorough settlement of this issue.

While (2) is noncommittal, (5) seems to suggest that the US would gradually lessen its arms sales to Taiwan while at the same time implying that the US would continue to supply Taiwan with armaments on the "level of those supplied in recent years" in reference to the post-1979 reestablishment of diplomatic ties with China. You can read it both ways. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently reassured Chinese President Hu Jintao that the US would not endorse moves towards Taiwanese independence. It's a tricky matter that the US probably would rather not get caught in the middle of. After all, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which is actually a law and not a mere communique indicates a broader role for the US in the defense of Taiwan should hostilities break, say, across the Taiwan Strait. Actually, the relevant provisions of this act are consistent with the ROC's purchase of anti-missile and anti-submarine systems in being of a "defensive" nature:
(5) to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and

(6) to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.