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US Taiwan Arms Deal

MH Rajesh writes: Finally after four years, and much dithering US has sold arms to Taiwan. This tranche of 1.3bn US$ includes two Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates of 1970s vintage, surface-to-air and antitank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles and CIWS.

MH Rajesh writes: Finally after four years, and much dithering US has sold arms to Taiwan. This tranche of 1.3bn US$ includes two Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates of 1970s vintage, surface-to-air and antitank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles and CIWS. The original demand by Taiwan was for submarines. When compared to that request the deal is too little, late and inventory is definitely not on the cutting edge, but the message is sharp and its timing is not lost. This sale therefore needs to be seen in wider context of events in recent past and the Taiwanese elections which is just a month away.

Ever since the island nation was made home by the Nationalists in 1949, US had been its main supporter. Things changed in 1970s with the Sino-US rapprochement. At the peak of the Cold War, US decided to improve relations with China, which in spite of being a communist state, was beta noire of Soviet Union, US’s Cold War rival. China was a poorer cog in communist ‘scourge’, and was a potential ally against the Soviets.  Since then, Taiwan has been in a difficult position. China’s steep rise post 1978 only widened the economic and military gap between Taiwan and China.  The US passed the Taiwan Relations Act to assuage the islanders and it promises continued support. However the act leaves certain harder choices ambiguous. Since then, US has been supplying arms to Taiwan, just as Chinas protests got more shrill and more effective. Pushed to such a situation, Taiwan has significantly improved cross straits relations with China, which recently culminated in the historic Ma-Xi summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore in Nov 15. Herein lay the twist, which probably contextualizes this new deal!

To understand this sale fully, a cursory glance of recent history and internal politics of Taiwan is essential. The ruling party of Taiwan is the Kuomintang or KMT, which is the Chinese Nationalist party, was originally led by Chiang Kai-shek.  KMT fought and lost to the Communists in mainland and retreated to Taiwan to establish the RoC in 1949. Taiwan was ruled by a KMT dictatorial regime till 1996, when a multi-party democracy was ushered in. This complicated the cross straits dynamics, weakened the umbilical with mainland and paved way for greater Taiwanese identity. The US-China confrontation, termed the third Taiwan Crisis in 1996 was the result of rise of a democratic Taiwan. Rise of indigenous Taiwanese identity weakened the One China idea.  KMT though, fought the Communists over China till 1949, today ironically finds greater common ground with the Communists as far as One China idea goes vis a vis its opposition parties in Taiwan. The opposing coalition is led by DPP, which is against One China idea and is pro- independence.  The elections are scheduled in January 2016, wherein the DPP led coalition is likely to win due to anti-incumbency and other factors.

It is under such a backdrop of an impending loss of KMTs mandate that the recent Ma Xi summit was held. It was a swan song effort by KMT, partly aimed as a flourish of eight years of improved cross straits relations and partly aimed at stoking nationalist embers amongst electorate.  Though the summit was termed cosmetic by many, it definitely send signals to the US. The US neglect of Taiwanese armed forces and Chinas soft embrace of Taiwanese economy had weakened US position in cross straits imbroglio. The latest arms deal is precisely to regain that lost ground in cross strait dynamics.

As expected, China has expressed its protests, including a threat to ban the companies involved. In fact, China understands the dynamics of arms sales more than any! More than 70% of its arms sales in the past 25 years have been in South Asia.   It has sold eight times this present tranche of outdated inventory in a single submarine deal of 8bn US$ with Pakistan. It intends to arm poorer nations with hardly any threat in IOR with submarines. So one is forced to wonder, How are arms sales in South Asia any different from East Asia? It is time China ‘don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you

To read the article “China Protests Sale of U.S. Arms to Taiwan”, please see the link given below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/world/asia/taiwan-arms-sales-us-china.html?_r=0

 

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