Global Insights: Challenging Beijing on Taiwan Weapons Sales

Global Insights: Challenging Beijing on Taiwan Weapons Sales

Just 12 days into 2010, Chinese government representatives have already made more than a half-dozen official statements warning the Obama administration against selling additional weapons to Taiwan. The People's Republic of China (PRC) may respond in several ways to the announced sales, with the freezing of Sino-American military relations likely to be one means of retaliation. The Obama administration should accept a temporary suspension to educate Chinese policymakers that the defense dialogue is not something that Beijing can employ as a source of leverage over Washington.

The immediate catalyst for Beijing's anger came on Dec. 23, when the Defense Department announced that Raytheon Corporation had been awarded a $1.1 billion contract for the production of ground-based air and missile defense systems for Taiwan. On Jan. 7, the Pentagon also awarded a $968 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corporation that includes the sale of 253 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) air defense missiles to Taiwan. These air and missile defense systems could partly negate the massive fleet of more than 1,000 short- and medium-range missiles that the Chinese military has stationed within range of Taiwan. The Chinese military has been augmenting this arsenal by roughly 100 missiles each year.

In reacting to the announcements so vehemently, Chinese policymakers are also seeking to lay down a marker against further sales during the Obama administration. Based on the package submitted by the Bush administration to Congress in October 2008, the next set of exports to Taiwan could include Black Hawk helicopters, minesweepers, and diesel submarines -- as well as newer-model F-16s to replace Taipei's earlier versions of that fighter. The U.S.-Taiwan Business Council has identified the issuing of a contract for the F-16 upgrades as its main defense sale priority for 2010.

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