Last week, Paul Wolfowitz, now chairman of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, predicted the Bush administration would follow through on its promises to sell Taiwan weapons included in a $11 billion arms package. The package had been approved in April 2001 but has languished for various reasons. Initially, political infighting in Taipei prevented the government from making necessary budget appropriations for the purchases. Recently, however, Washington has shown reluctance to go forward. “President Bush treats commitments as commitments,” Wolfowitz, the controversial former deputy defense secretary, said. “I would just predict these will be approved.”
Wolfowitz’s prediction comes on the heels of remarks by Admiral Timothy Keating. On July 16, the chief of the U.S. Pacific Command said that Washington had frozen sales of weapons to the island republic. The freeze appears to include not only the arms package but also advanced versions of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter, which Taiwan has requested to replace its aging fleet of American fighters. Keating’s candid remarks, made at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, triggered a denial from the State Department, which affirmed American support for Taipei. Yet the denial seemed hollow because, inside the U.S. government, the State Department has been the leading opponent of arming Taiwan.
Some say that Mr. Bush is delaying the announcement of weapons sales until he returns from China, where he will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Yet this assessment looks like wishful thinking because a sale would be a reversal of Bush policy, which has sided with communist China against democratic Taiwan. Dubya somehow bought Beijing’s line that Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who left office in May after eight years, was a troublemaker. In what was a low point in modern American diplomacy, Mr. Bush, next to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the Oval Office in December 2003, delivered a blunt criticism of Chen. It was, for Beijing’s communists, a day of triumph. For Mr. Bush, however, it was a moment of shame. It was simply wrong for the President to treat a dictatorship as a respectable member of the international community and a democracy as a rogue state.
There are those in Washington who, in the desire to establish an informal alliance with Beijing, would like to see China absorb Taiwan in order to remove a potential source of disagreement. As Admiral Dennis Blair said in 1999, Taiwan is “the turd in the punchbowl.” Such a view, in addition to being morally repugnant, is also strategically short-sighted. First, it is highly debatable whether it is possible for the U.S. to maintain stable relations with a communist superstate that believes it should push aside America and dominate the international system. Furthermore, the Washington-New York axis may buy into the notion of a grand alliance with Beijing, but such an arrangement would go against ingrained American values and would not survive popular opinion in the U.S.