China and the US arms deal with Taiwan – some background comments

China has objected strongly to the 6.4 billion arms sale which the Obama Administration as presented to Congress[Telegraph London 1/2/2010]. Announcing retaliation,Vice Foreign Minister, He Yafei, said that China was ‘strongly indignant’ and that the US plan ‘will definitely undermine China-US relations’; and Admiral Yang Yi, author of China’s Defence White Papers, has said that if Congress ‘does not make a U Turn …. sanctions will follow. We are clear this action will harm ourselves. We are going to give a lesson to the US Government that harming others will harm yourself. This will not only affect Boeing but all companies involved in this.’ Boeing is supplying the anti-ship missiles which form a significant part of the sale.It also accounts for 53% of the planes in China’s commercial fleet, with an estimated market worth $400 billion dollars over the next two decades.

Arms sales by the US to Taiwan have been made regularly under the Taiwan Relations Act since 1979. There is nothing exceptional in the current proposed sale. One obvious explanation of the current more vigorous complaint is China’s financial leverage over the US, especially apparent since the GFC.

It has never been suggested – nor does China suggest – that the Arms Sales have any aggressive purpose against the mainland. They are clearly designed to enable Taiwan to protect itself against an attack from the PRC. China’s objection is that it implies the US rejection of the PRC claim to re-unite Taiwan, (which it views as a renegade Province) and perhaps (although the US has never committed itself)  also implies US support of Taiwan by force.

It is unlikely that the present friction will result in serious conflict, although the situation is obviously open to  unforeseen escalation. Congress may well call China’s ‘bluff’  and hope that diplomacy will repair the relationship before sanctions are implemented or, if implemented, not do too much economic harm. But another possibility is that the US and China will come to an understanding,China agreeing to refrain from use of force and the US agreeing not to supply arms  pending the outcome of tripartite talks about the future relationship of Taiwan to Mainland China. This development would be opposed by Taiwan. Moreover, given Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, such talks would be inconceivable unless predicated upon the ‘one country-two systems’ autonomy allowed to Hong Kong.

The latter outcome would be retrograde. Taiwanese democracy would not long survive the takeover of sovereignty. Re-unification would not be acceptable to the very substantial and vehement opponents to it in Taiwan. Re-unification, resulting from any such ‘autonomy agreement’ would be followed – or is likely to be followed – by repression. Hong Kong is very different but even there it is likely China is only biding its time to exercise a more repressive influence. Thus, whilst the Security Anti-subversion Law under Article 23 of the Basic Law which the Chinese pressed upon the then Chief Minister(and would have severely curtailed human rights otherwise allowed under the Basic Law), was withdrawn following an outburst of popular opposition, it is likely to be re-introduced at a more opportune time. A law in the same terms was introduced into Macau in 2009. It is reasonable to conclude that a re-unification of Taiwan with Communist China could only be maintained by continuing repression.

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Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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