In today’s Asia edition of The Wall Street Journal, defense consultant Ed Ross explains why President Bush should approve additional arms sales to Taiwan, before he leaves office.
The proposed acquisitions include 60 additional F-16 fighters; Patriot PAC III air defense systems, Apache attack helicopters and Blackhawk transport choppers. All are vitally needed to improve Taiwan’s defensive capabilities against the PRC. As Mr. Ross observes:
During the eight-year tenure of former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, political infighting between the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Kuomintang stalled the funding for these weapons purchases. At the same time, Mr. Chen's independence-leaning policies angered China's leaders. Washington was displeased by Mr. Chen's inability to push through the arms purchases, and because his actions and outspokenness interfered with improving U.S.-China relations.
The damage those eight years did to U.S.-Taiwan relations was considerable. Taiwan's relative air, missile defense and antisubmarine warfare capabilities fell further behind as important Taiwan military acquisitions were postponed. China, however, purchased advanced weapons from the Soviet Union and increased funding for its own military research and development programs.
We’ve written at length about China’s growing military power along the Taiwan Strait. In the mid-1990s, they announced plans to position at least 500 surface-to-surface missiles along the Strait by the end of the decade. While skeptics scoffed, Beijing quickly exceeded its goal. More than a decade later, there are (by some intelligence estimates) more than 1,000 short and medium-range missiles, mostly CSS-6 and CSS-7, within striking distance of Taiwan, backed by an extensive logistics and communications infrastructure.
The PRC has also upgraded its air forces, stationing scores of modern SU-30 Flankers at bases opposite Taiwan. Beijing has plans to acquire at least 200 Flankers, many of them built under license from Sukhoi. Addition of the Flanker and the recently-introduced J-10 (based on Israel’s Lavi program) give China a qualitative edge over Taiwan’s air force for the first time in history.
Beijing’s strategy is clear: the offensive firepower now deployed along the strait could be used to pulverize Taiwan’s airfields, ports and air defenses, rendering them largely useless in supporting reinforcement and resupply operations. At the same time, China’s rapidly-improving air and naval forces would engage U.S. carrier groups east of Taiwan, further complicating any defense of the island.
The shifting balance of power along the strait underscores the importance of proposed arms sales to Taiwan. We agree with Mr. Ross; President Bush should approve the deal before he leaves office, and Taipei must follow through with full funding for the upgrades, even in an era of increasing détente with Beijing.
The question is, has Taiwan already fallen too far behind? Will the program discussed in the WSJ piece provoke a Chinese reaction before the weapons (and possibly others -- I expect there are going to be naval acquisitions at some point) can be deployed?
I will be curious to see what happens between China and Taiwan in the first months of the Obama administration (sorry, but I'm beginning to think that's a done deal).
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