Chinese Missile Drawdown Hinges on Taiwan Vote
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — There will be no missile reduction or redeployment until after Taiwan’s presidential election in 2012, said members of a Chinese academic and government delegation attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier this month.
Relations between China and Taiwan have been warming since the Beijing-friendly Nationalist Party (KMT) won legislative and presidential elections in 2008, sweeping the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) out of power. Taiwan is preparing to sign a historic agreement, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which many say will usher in a new era of cooperative ties.
However, there are fears in Beijing that the DPP will win the 2012 presidential election and reverse agreements made across the Taiwan Strait.
Despite comments by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said that during her meetings with Chinese leaders earlier this month, “China had offered to redeploy” some forces facing Taiwan, there is little evidence the offer is genuine, said Arthur Ding, a cross-Strait specialist in Taiwan who also attended the Shangri-La.
Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the remarks during a congressional hearing with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on June 16.
“China will see who wins the 2012 presidential election,” Ding said. If the DPP wins, China will maintain the same level of deterrence or higher to discourage the DPP from moving Taiwan toward “independence.” However, if the KMT wins the 2012 election, a withdrawal of missiles is a possibility, he said.
At the June 16 hearing, Gates defended U.S. arms sales to Taipei, citing China’s “extraordinary” deployment of “all manner of cruise and ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan on the Chinese side of the strait.” But the secretary said the U.S. arms sales were in keeping with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), and suggested the improvement in relations between Beijing and Taipei had not diminished the need for them.
“We certainly applaud the growing links between Taiwan and the People’s Republic,” he said.
Larry Wortzel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said that even if China agrees to withdraw or redeploy the missiles, it makes little difference.
“Everyone knows these are mobile missiles, everyone knows they can be loaded on trains,” he said. “And everyone knows that regardless of where they are moved, they can be moved back.” The best analogy is the Cuban missile crisis, he said, when the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba but redeployed them elsewhere in Europe.
The other problem with dealing with China, Wortzel said, is that there is no agreement to guarantee removal, redeployment and destruction of missiles, such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the former Soviet Union.
Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, said Feinstein’s remarks were a “retabling of Beijing’s 2002 Crawford proposal to pull back some missiles if the U.S. stops selling arms to Taiwan.
“If so, it was a nonstarter then and is still a nonstarter today. Nothing is preventing Beijing from reducing its military buildup against Taiwan except Chinese intransigence,” she said. “It is their military posture that is out of step with the easing on cross-Strait tensions, not U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.”
The “Crawford proposal” emerged during a 2002 visit by then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the home of then-U.S. President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas. Jiang reportedly offered to withdraw some missiles in exchange for an end to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, said Mark Stokes, the Pentagon’s former China-Taiwan desk officer in 2002. The offer was rejected.
At the time, according to Pentagon estimates, there were 450 mobile short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. Today, the number is 1,300 and rising.
Arms sales to Taiwan are protected under the Taiwan Relations Act, passed in 1979 after the normalization of U.S.-China relations and the closure of the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Command.
Beijing was infuriated by the recent release of two U.S. arms packages to Taiwan totaling $12.9 billion. The package included Apache and Black Hawk helicopters and Patriot PAC-3 missile defense systems. Since 2006, Taiwan has been pushing for the release of 66 F-16C/D fighter aircraft, but the United States has so far rejected the request despite a recent U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report identifying growing weaknesses in its air defense capabilities.
China responded to both arms deals by shutting down military exchanges with the United States.
Members of the Chinese delegation attending Shangri-La indicated there are three conditions for improved military relations with United States: End arms sales to Taiwan, end intelligence patrols in China’s exclusive economic zone and end anti-China clauses in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The 2000 NDAA restricts military-to-military exchanges with China and mandates that the Pentagon deliver an annual report to the U.S. Congress on Chinese military modernization.
Feinstein called U.S. arms sales to Taiwan “a substantial irritant” to better relations and said the recent improvement of ties across the Taiwan Strait might be an “opportunity” to “consider or reconsider the future arms sales to Taiwan.” Others have been bolder with calls for a full review of the TRA.
Retired U.S. Adm. William Owens, former 6th Fleet commander, said the time was right to review the TRA in light of changes in both cross-Strait ties and the rise of China’s military. Owens heads the Sanya Initiative, an effort to improve military relations between China and the United States through meetings of retired military officers.