The hidden reefs in China-US relations

Updated: 2013-08-23 11:35

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Guan reminded the Americans that last Saturday was the 31st anniversary of the joint communiqu regarding US arms sales to Taiwan. Issued by China and the US on Aug 17, 1982, the communiqu states that the US government does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan and that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and China in 1979. The US intended gradually to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution, according to the communiqu.

Guan said the US should reflect on the issue.

President Xi asked the US to stop its arms sales to Taiwan when he met with Obama in June. Guan said Xi had expressed at the meeting that China is willing to adjust its military deployment if the US stops arms sales to Taiwan.

The US has insisted that the arms sales are aimed at boosting the confidence of self-defense for Taiwan and the arms are defensive in nature. However, some US lawmakers are pushing for advanced F16C/D fighters to Taiwan.

In Taiwan, which is experiencing an increasingly intertwined economic and trade relationship with the mainland, some have regarded the more than 1,000 missiles aimed at the island from the Chinese mainland as a threat.

To Chinese on the mainland, those missiles serve as a deterrence to any who intend to pursue Taiwan independence, and they are not aimed at Taiwan's people.

Shen Dingli, vice-dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said former Chinese President Jiang Zemin made the same proposal to President George W. Bush when they met at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002, but the US refused the proposal as a "non-starter."

"Certainly it is an idea worthy of trial, though the causality was not correct: The US arming of Taiwan and Taiwan's pursuit of independence forced the mainland to threaten Taiwan with missiles," he said.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that the US and China should not cut a deal without Taiwan's involvement and the guidelines under the "Six Assurances" bar such consultation.

The Six Assurances say the US will not hold prior consultations with the People's Republic of China regarding arms sales to Taiwan, and the US will not play a mediation role between the PRC and Taiwan. It was proposed by Taiwan in 1982 when China and the US were negotiating US arms sales to Taiwan. The US government agreed to the guidelines and informed the US Congress.

Glaser said she does support a unilateral gesture by Beijing to reduce the military deployment aimed at Taiwan.

"Perhaps such a gesture could be destroying the short-range ballistic missiles that are deployed opposite the island. Taiwan might then feel a reduced threat, which might have a future impact on its decisions on the arms it seeks to purchase from the United States," she said.

Chas Freeman, a retired US diplomat and an authority on China, called China's proposal a "positive, constructive and creative" effort to reduce tensions between Beijing and Washington. "The best way to eliminate these tensions is through progress in cross-strait relations," he said.

However, Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, described the proposal as "not feasible" because "China's missiles are mobile, so if they are withdrawn they can be moved back in a short period of time". "It takes a long time to carry out arms sales to Taiwan," he said, adding that China has many military capabilities other than missiles.