The sale came while Tsai, who has focused on defense affairs throughout her tenure, was preparing to depart for a lengthy overseas trip to meet with Taiwan’s diplomatic partners in the Caribbean, stopping for four days in the U.S. while en route and on her way back.
The politics of defense likely also explain why it is hard for Taiwan to adopt the asymmetric strategies that some experts advise, including with respect to air defense or enhancing the role of the reserve forces. Eliminating a conventional fighter-based air force or dramatically enhancing the role of the reserves might be operationally sound, yet would require expending political capital to explain to the population as representing an improvement in Taiwan’s security. Paradoxically, because Taiwan society has lived for decades with threats from China, it has been somewhat inured to the risks, with some mistakenly believing that the only hope is U.S. intervention and that nothing Taiwan can do will make much of a difference. Taiwan’s shift to an all-volunteer force, while intended to enhance readiness, competence, and morale, has run into problems that may further erode the understanding of military affairs in Taiwan society.
On the U.S. side, the arms sale reflects the Trump administration’s growing commitment to the status and security of Taiwan as a "democratic success story, reliable partner, and force for good in the world", as well as a view of China as a great power competitor. The Congress, for its part, shares concerns over China’s growing power, and has sought to reassure Taiwan about U.S. interests and commitment to the Indo-Pacific, while also supporting greater official contact between Washington and Taipei. China’s threat to sanction the main U.S. firms involved in the sales —General Dynamics and Raytheon— and its decision to launch air force exercises across from Taiwan in the wake of the arms sale announcement are likely to further reinforce Washington’s perception of China as a "revisionist power".
Finally, the latest instance of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan accords with the terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The TRA declared that "the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means" and that the United States would continue to "provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character." As a Public Law (PL 96-8), the TRA trumps any U.S. – China joint statement, such as the 1982 Communiqué, which merely expressed the U.S. intention, if the PRC approached the resolution of its differences with Taiwan peacefully, to reduce arms sales over (an undefined period of) time. The 1982 Communiqué has come under criticism by observers who worry it may give China too much leverage over the U.S. To that end, it will be worth watching whether the Trump administration proceeds with sales of platforms such as the 66 F-16V’s that Taiwan requested earlier this year.
In conclusion, Taiwan’s arms purchase reflects a continuing concern over the PRC’s military intentions; a balancing of operational and political considerations; a commitment by the U.S. to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself; and an American refusal to "stand down" in the face of China’s aggressive behavior and coercion of Indo-Pacific democracies.
Copyright : SAM YEH / AFP