Why the latest U.S. decision of arms sale to Taiwan helps no one

Wang Xinjuan
2021-08-07 21:56:52

By Zhou Wenxing

A light show illuminates the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China's Taiwan, January 2, 2017. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Zhou Wenxing is a research fellow at the Huazhi Institute for Global Governance of Nanjing University and a former Asia Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

According to the news release by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of 155mm M109A6 Paladin Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer System and related equipment for an estimated cost of $750 million to the Taiwan region on August 4, the first arms sale case to the island endorsed by the Biden administration since taking office in January, 2021.

Indeed, since America established diplomatic relations with China in 1979 based on their consensus on the one-China principle, the previous U.S. administrations have never intended to withdraw from the Taiwan Straits for the sake of its own interests. It is for these very interests - in terms of value, economy and strategy - that the U.S. government sold weapons to the island every few years in the past 40 plus years.

In terms of U.S. narrative, selling weapons to Taiwan "helps to safeguard the island" as what former President George W. Bush called "a beacon of democracy to Asia and the world." As for economic interests, it would bring huge financial benefits to and generate job opportunities in the U.S.

On security and strategic level, arms sales to Taiwan contribute to "modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability," as the DSCA news release indicates, enabling the U.S. to take full advantage of the issue as a "strategic card" to deter China's rise and development.

In the context of U.S. policy of strategic competition with China, and particularly with an unprecedented anti-China U.S. Congress at play in the foreign policy making process, however, the security and strategic factors are playing increasingly critical roles. Although, the economic value factor is a big part for the current Democratic administration.

These factors combined pushed the Biden administration's decision to sell arms to Taiwan after it came to power in less than seven months. But this arms sale could fall way short of American elites' expectations, and it won't do anyone any good.

First, this case could neither help to defend Taiwan itself nor to bring safety to the island. As revealed by a series of latest policy research by the U.S.-based RAND Corporation, both policy and military fields in the U.S. have long recognized the tilting military balance towards the Chinese mainland vis-à-vis the Taiwan region.

Traffic drives along a road near an elevated train track in Taipei, southeast China's Taiwan, January 13, 2016. /Getty

Selling weapons to Taiwan fails to alter the structural change in the Straits. It may in turn accelerate the process of reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. In this sense, the U.S. safeguard of the so-called "beacon of democracy" is merely like a castle in the air.

Besides, American military industrial enterprises are more likely to suffer the loss. China imposed sanctions on Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon for their involvement in an arms sale to Taiwan in October 2020, which caused the three companies' share prices to fall 4.4 percent, 4.3 percent, and 3.2 percent, respectively.

Companies involved in this case do seem likely to share Boeing's fate. As the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on August 5, "China will resolutely take legitimate and necessary counter-measures in light of the development of the situation."

Most importantly, the proposed sale will definitely take its toll on frosty China-U.S. relations. Historical experience shows bilateral ties would very likely take a turn for the worse once the U.S. interfered in this domestic issue that has been deemed the most sensitive one for both countries.

This sale is a setback in resetting China-U.S. relations, a blow to diplomatic efforts to bring bilateral ties back to a semblance of normalcy. It brings more uncertainties to China-U.S. cooperation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, to help the global economy recover and to tackle climate change. This obviously runs counter to the Biden administrations' ambition to have America "lead the world again."

Arms sale to Taiwan in these troubled times helps no one. The Biden administration should carefully weigh its decision and think twice whether such a provocative move is worth it.

The U.S. intervention in China's internal affairs is like sowing seeds of hatred that may bear a harvest of conflict with China. At the minimum, the arms sale goes against the Biden administration's oft repeated “benign competition” with China. It is now the time for the U.S. to be a responsible stakeholder.


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