Whether the promise of reduced tensions is fulfilled, however, depends almost as much on the policies that Washington adopts as it does on measures that Taipei and Beijing adopt. The United States must be careful not to do anything that might, however inadvertently, torpedo the cautious rapprochement between Taiwan and the mainland. The rule for U.S. policy should be the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath in medicine: First, do no harm.
The greatest danger is that the Bush administration in its final months in office might push forward with a proposal for a new arms‐sale package to Taiwan. The Taiwanese military is especially interested in purchasing advanced versions of the F-16 fighter. In addition to the obvious economic incentives to approve such a sale, America’s presidential election cycle might create a potent incentive. A sale of additional F‐16s could be crucial in deciding the electoral votes in the battleground state of Missouri. It was precisely such a consideration that influenced the decision to approve an F-16 sale on the eve of the 1992 presidential election.
Beijing could make it far more difficult for Washington to push for a new arms sale if Chinese officials move rapidly to offer conciliatory gestures to the new Taiwanese government. Most important, China should announce an immediate freeze on the deployment of missiles across the strait from Taiwan. The PRC has at least 1,000 missiles already in place, and some estimates put the figure at nearly 1,400. Yet it continues to deploy missiles at the rate of several dozen per month.
For years, Washington has cited the missile buildup as the principal reason for offering sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan. American officials argue that the United States is merely leveling the playing field to discourage Beijing from considering the use of force against the island. By announcing a freeze, along with a statement that China is prepared to reduce the number of missiles to pre‐2000 levels if Mr. Ma’s new government takes meaningful steps to improve cross‐strait relations, Beijing could largely neutralize that rationale.