Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Taiwan just won't buy it

The Economist and Washington Times recently reported that Taiwan continued to delay discussions on a budget to purchase submarines and anti-missile batteries from the United States. The Bush administration made it a priority since its first term to not only defend Taiwan, but to arm the island itself. Internal Taiwanese politics in the parliament have been blamed for the delay in the acceptance of a budget to procure the weapons from the United States, as well as the possibility that weapons acquisition might aggravate China. It seems, however, that a completion of the transaction has not been a main priority for the Taiwanese government.

The US has made it clear that it is losing interest in defending Taiwan if it is not willing to defend itself. However, it is also questionable if the DoD is not putting a higher value on arming Taiwan as a means of deterrence from China attacking as opposed to guaranteed US military involvement. It may indicate the desire of the United States to "defend" Taiwan through providing weapons, realizing that it may be unrealistic or extremely undesirable for it to become involved if conflict with China should arise, given the already strapped US military. No hardware, however, could truly be sufficient to allow Taiwan to protect itself alone should China try to reclaim it by force. Taiwan may likely see the sales of these arms as the first among many future capabilities improvements to Taiwan via the United States, which it may see as an abandonment of the direct protection which the United States has promised. With US troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and with hot zones around the world, Taiwan may fear that its status as a virtual American protectorate may be diminishing. As we've seen with countries acquiring advanced weaponry from other countries, such acquisitions are often of limited use if the receiving countries are unable or unaware of how to use or maintain the weapons. This move is certainly not a smoking gun for a change in American policy towards Taiwan, but it may indicate a slow shift away from full commitment to the island.

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