China, Taiwan and the Danger of the U.S. Arms Deal

The recent announcement that the Trump Administration is going ahead with the sale of $1.42 billion worth of arms to Taiwan has definitely not gone unnoticed by China.  According to Donald Trump’s favourite media outlet, CNN and the U.S. government, the sale will include advanced missiles and torpedoes including the MK 48 6AT Heavyweight Torpedo and the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon.  By supporting Taiwan, Washington is definitely inserting itself into the Mainland China – Taiwan geopolitical standoff that has been simmering for decades.

Let’s take a quick look at the two aforementioned weapons:

1.) MK 48 6AT Heavyweight Torpedo – manufactured by Raytheon, the MK 48 6 Advanced Technology is a heavyweight torpedo that is operable in both littoral (coastal) and deep-water environments.  Raytheon claims that the torpedo has sonar guidance and control, is electrically powered and has suiting technology.  It has software-based guidance and control which enables autonomous operation.  It is equipped with quieting technology which enables covert deployment and reduced detectability.  Best of all,  has a low total ownership cost.  According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the sale will include 46 MK 48 torpedoes, torpedo support, publications, training, weapon systems support and engineering and technical assistance with an estimated cost of $250 million.

2.) AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) – manufactured by Raytheon, the JSOW is a low-cost air-to-ground missile system that has the capability to engage moving maritime targets and stationary land targets.  It has a range of more than 100 kilometres.  Here is a video from the manufacturer showing the weapon’s capability:

According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the sale to Taiwan will include 56 AGM-154 air-to-ground missiles plus spare and repair parts, dummy training missiles, support and test equipment and technical and logistics support with an estimated cost of $185.5 million.

In both cases, here’s what the DSCA news releases have to say about the justification for these sales:

This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability. The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region.

The proposed sale will improve the recipient’s capability in current and future defensive efforts. The recipient will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen homeland defense. The recipient will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.” (my bold)

Now, let’s look at what the U.S. government has to say about the Taiwan arms deal.  Here’s what Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had to say about the deal: 

I welcome today’s announcement of $1.4 billion in long-overdue arms sales to Taiwan.

“Sales of defensive weapons, based on Taiwan’s needs, are a key provision of our commitments as laid out in the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances.  And that’s why, as Chairman, I have repeatedly called for regular sales to Taiwan – just like we would see with any other partner.

“I will continue to be a stalwart defender of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, and will continue working to make our partnership even stronger.  A stable and prosperous Taiwan is good for the people of Taiwan, good for the stability of the Asia Pacific region, and good for U.S. national security.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin.  Here’s what China had to say about the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan:

China is firmly opposed to the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan. China’s stance is clear and firm. The U.S. nevertheless made the wrong decision to sale arms to Taiwan in disregard of China’s strong representations. It seriously violates the principles of the three Joint Communiqués between China and the U.S., in particular, the August 17, 1982 U.S.-China Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan, grossly interferes China’s domestic affairs, jeopardizes China’s sovereign and security interest and undermines China’s efforts to realize national unification. The Chinese government and Chinese people have every right to be outraged. The Chinese side has lodged serious representation to the U.S. side, and reserves every right to take further action.

The wrong move of the U.S. side runs counter to the consensus reached by the two presidents in Mar-a-Lago and the positive development momentum of the China-U.S. relationship. It will harm the mutual trust and cooperation between China and the U.S.. We urge the U.S. to immediately revoke the wrong decision and stop the arms sale to Taiwan.

The Democratic Progressive Party authorities refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus and the core principle that the two sides of the Taiwan Straits belongs to one China, and take “dechinalize” measures in Taiwan. The arms sale by the U.S. sends a very wrong signal to the “Taiwan independence” forces and harms the cross-Straits peace and stability. The U.S. has repeatedly said that it has profound interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Straits. However, its deeds contradicted its words. 

Taiwan is a part of China. One China principle is a norm widely recognized by the international community. Realizing national unification at an early date is a common wish of the Chinese people, including Taiwan compatriots. It is the aspiration of the people and the general trend that will not be stopped by arms sale to Taiwan by some countries. We are confident and capable to contain the separatist activities of the “Taiwan independence” forces and defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will never allow anyone to separate Taiwan from the country.

As referenced in the Chinese press release, here’s what the August 17, 1982 U.S. – China Communique on Arms Sales to Taiwan had to say:

In the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations on January 1, 1979, issued by the Government of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, the United States of America recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China, and it acknowledged the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China. Within that context, the two sides agreed that the people of the United States would continue to maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan. On this basis, relations between the United States and China were normalized… 

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…

Respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs constitute the fundamental principles guiding United States China relations…

The Chinese Government reiterates that the question of Taiwan is China’s internal affair. The Message to Compatriots in Taiwan issued by China on January 1, 1979 promulgated a fundamental policy of striving for peaceful reunification of the motherland. The Nine-Point Proposal put forward by China on September 30, 1981 represented a further major effort under this fundamental policy to strive for a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question…” (my bold)

So much for “maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region.”  It would appear that Washington feels that it can continue to ignore the long history of geopolitical strain that has affected Taiwan – China relations since the late 1940s without peril to itself or either party in the standoff.

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