In the second half of June it was reported in the Taiwanese media that the Taiwanese government had requested that the US government halt some US$12 billion in arms sales, originally proposed by the George W Bush administration in April 2001.
This request by President Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang (KMT) administration, which came into office in May, harkens back to its day as an opposition party, when it was responsible for a delay of years for many of the items on the weapons shopping list.
Ma’s election produced the first KMT president in eight years and demonstrated public dissatisfaction with the pro‐independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The return of the KMT gave Beijing the green light to go forward with formal talks on establishing direct flights, economic accords and a potential peace accord.
On June 12, the Washington Post reported that in addition to holding up the arms package, senior US officials such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley are holding up the delivery of 66 F-16 C/D Block 50/52 fighter jets for Taiwan, estimated to cost $5 billion, possibly until Bush leaves office.
The Post story confirmed what had earlier been reported in Taiwan; that Taiwan’s government had privately urged that notifications to the US Congress for future arms sales not be sent in coming weeks as it completes talks with China on launching charter flights and expanding tourism, while Rice and other top officials appeared reluctant to irritate Beijing amid negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program.
The US’s reluctance is not hard to understand. Given that with Ma Ying-jeou’s election as Taiwan’s president, Taiwan and China have their first real chance in eight years to improve ties. The United States is worried that a big arms sales package is going to throw a wrench in the works and give China an excuse to object.
The notifications to the US Congress would need to be made at least one month before an October lawmakers’ break if the sales are to proceed this year.
The last time the Bush administration notified the US Congress about potential arms sales to Taiwan was on November 9, 2007, for a Patriot‐2 missile deal worth US$939 million. But Taipei wants the newer Patriot‐3 missiles.
The blanket freeze on the 2001 arms sales package, which includes submarines and PAC‐3s air defense missiles, is unprecedented in Taiwan‐US relations.
Taiwan asked to buy new F‐16s last year, but thus far the Bush administration has refused to accept formal paperwork needed to process the request, according to the US‐Taiwan Business Council, which represents about 100 companies doing business in Taiwan, including contractors such as Lockheed Martin.
The new F‐16s would supplement 150 F-16A/B models sold to Taiwan by Bush’s father, the first president Bush, in 1992.
Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s envoy to Washington, urged the US on June 10 to approve the sale of the jets as soon as possible. This, however, would put the Bush administration in an awkward position ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing in August.
Taiwan asked to buy new F‐16s last year, but the Bush administration has refused to accept formal paperwork needed to process the request, according to the US‐Taiwan Business Council, which represents about 100 companies doing business in Taiwan, including contractors such as Lockheed Martin.
Reportedly, the US de facto embassy in Taipei, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), has turned down a letter of request (LOR) for price and availability data for 66 F‐16s for almost two years.
Wu made his remarks after the business council, now headed by Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy secretary of defense under Bush, accused the administration of tampering with the US arms sales process.
Aside from the jets the weapons package includes the 30 Apache attack helicopters, 60 Black Hawk helicopters, eight submarines and four Patriot air defense missile batteries, according to the Post.
Meanwhile, on June 25 President Ma told a United States National Committee on United States‐China Relations delegation, led by former US secretary of defense, William Perry, that Taiwan will continue to allocate funds for defensive arms to “ensure a solid national defense force”.
“We will rationalize our defense budget to acquire the necessary defensive weaponry to form a solid national defense force to show our will to protect the nation,” said Ma in the Presidential Office.
Meanwhile, the news of a possible arms freeze has energized Republican legislators in the US Congress.
On June 30 US Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, co‐chair of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, was joined by 13 senate colleagues to send a letter to Bush urging him to carry out the US commitment to provide Taiwan with weapons systems consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act. The letter said, in part: