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U.S.' reported new arms sales policy a positive move: U.S. experts

2018/06/06 19:05:20

CNA file photo

Washington, June 5 (CNA) Two American experts on Taiwan-China relations said Tuesday that a reported shift in the United States government policies to allow processing of arms sales to Taiwan on a case-by-case basis would be a positive step.

Ian Easton, an analyst at the U.S. think tank Project 2049 Institute, said the U.S. government does appear to be formulating a new Taiwan policy with the objective of preventing China President Xi Jinping from launching an attack on Taiwan, while at the same time preparing to defeat any such attack if deterrence fails.

Easton was commenting on a Reuters report earlier in the day that cited an anonymous U.S. official as saying that Washington is aiming to change the way it deals with arms procurement requests from Taiwan by processing them on a case-by-case basis instead of bundling them together, as is currently the practice.

The United States is also considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, which would likely be interpreted in Taiwan as a fresh sign of support by U.S. President Donald Trump, the Reuters report said, citing U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Easton said that if the U.S. begins sailing Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait and normalizes arms sales to Taiwan, those actions would have a positive effect on keeping the peace.

"But much more can and should be done by Washington to strengthen ties with Taipei," Easton said. As a free, independent and sovereign democratic country, the Republic of China's (Taiwan's) success is vital to U.S. national security interests, he said.

Meanwhile, Douglas Paal, a former Taipei Office director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said that he has long desired the approach of arms sales to Taiwan on a case-by-case basis. "But it is easier to implement in theory than in practice," he said.

Most of the time, an arms sale to Taiwan might be viewed as unhelpful in trying to get China to agree to something else, Paal said.

"Trump's unusual style may make this more possible, but China will not be passive," Paal said.

He said he had not heard that Washington was considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, but added that it would not be a huge change.

Paal said he hoped the reported policy changes would be integrated into a larger strategy, ranging from trade relations with Taiwan and the opening of the new AIT office in Taipei to advocacy for Taiwan's international space and arms sales.

"It's been hard to find a theme in Trump policy toward Taiwan," Paal said.

He said that while there are significant friends of Taiwan in policy positions in the Trump administration and a rising tide of resentment against China, the development of a Taiwan policy strategy seems to have been elusive so far. "But with a more activist National Security Council, maybe that will change," Paal added.

Paal was director of Asian affairs in the U.S. National Security Council from 1986-1993, serving under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Taiwan-U.S. relations have shifted during Trump's first 500 days in office as evidenced by the U.S. president's actions on Taiwan, including his 2016 phone-call with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and signing of the Taiwan Travel Act.

(By Leaf Chiang and Evelyn Kao)