China ramped up the pressure on the United States not to sell advanced arms to Taiwan, with the Communist Party’s official newspaper warning that US congressmen are ‘playing with fire’ over the issue.
The Obama administration is set to decide by the end of this month whether to agree to Taiwanese requests for upgraded versions of the F-16 fighter, which the island sees as essential for countering China’s military build-up across the Taiwan Strait. But China has objected strongly to previous sales, including one worth $6.4 billion in January last year that prompted Beijing to break off high-level military ties with Washington.
In a commentary written under the pen name Zhong Sheng, The People’s Daily warned that, ‘At present, some madmen on Capitol Hill are making an uproar about consolidating and expanding this cancer,’ Reuters notes. ‘If these crazy ideas come to fruition, what kind of predicament will Sino-U.S. relations find themselves in?’
An opinion piece in the English edition of the paper, appearing under the name Ding Gang, called for China to ‘punish’ the United States.
‘US arms sales to Taiwan can only create more jobs for the United States but can’t improve the ability of Taiwan's military force to compete with the Chinese mainland,’ the commentary said. ‘The essence of the problem is that some US Congress members hold a contemptuous attitude toward the core interests of China, which shows that they will never respect China.’
‘China-US relations will always be constrained by these people and will continue along a roller coaster pattern if China does not beat them until they feel the pain,’ it warned.
Taiwan has requested 66 F-16C/Ds, an order that will be decided this month. But Washington is seen as more likely to offer Taipei upgrades on 145 F-16A/Bs currently in its fleet, as well as other items such as new PAC-3 firing units, UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and AH-64D Apache helicopters. The problem for Taiwan is, according to J. Michael Cole, deputy news chief at the Taipei Times, that the 66 F-16C/Ds are meant to replace old F-5s and Mirage-2000 aircraft that are to be decommissioned.
‘This means that if it doesn't get the F-16C/Ds, Taiwan’s air force will likely find itself short of 66 aircraft,’ Cole says. ‘The real blow to Taiwan, in my view, would be for Taipei to wake up on Oct. 2 without a Plan B should it not get the F-16C/Ds.’
The United States is the biggest arms supplier to Taiwan, and is committed under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to supply the island with the weapons it needs to maintain an adequate ‘self-defence capability.’
Beijing for its part is frustrated by what it sees as the flouting of the third joint communiqué between the United States and China in 1982, which assured China that the United States would gradually decrease arms sales to Taiwan, with the goal of ceasing them altogether at some future date. As Matt Anderson of CSIS Pacific Forum noted in July, this ‘provision has created an ongoing debate that will likely continue for at least the near future.’
If the United States does refuse to sell Taiwan the more modern fighters it is hoping for, Cole warns that there will be repercussions in the region that stretch beyond Taiwanese disillusionment with the Obama administration.
‘There’s no doubt that not getting the F-16C/Ds would also raise fears of US abandonment and create unease in Taipei,’ he says. ‘But it would also raise questions over Washington's commitment to regional allies.’
‘It's a very complex marriage,’ Cole says of US-Taiwan ties. ‘Of course, if the US announces it’s nixing the sale of the F-16C/Ds, you're going to see resentment expressed in the media, and perhaps even by some Taiwanese officials and legislators.’
‘I'd expect pro-unification media, or some pan-blue supporters, to feign outrage and meanwhile use this development to encourage a further drifting towards the Chinese camp. “The US abandoned us. It betrayed us. Who else do we have? We might as well embrace the Chinese giant next door” they’d argue. “After all, we’re all part of the same civilization.”’