Ships sale to Taiwan 'unlikely'

Updated: 2014-04-09 11:29

By Cai Chunying and Liu Chang in Washington (China Daily USA)

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The US House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the sale of four naval vessels to Taiwan on Monday, the same day that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel kicked off a four-day visit in China.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which brought the bill to the floor, said in a press release that "the legislation reaffirms the US commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act and strengthens ties with key US security partners by transferring ships that meet shared maritime security requirements".

China has strongly objected to all previous US arms sales to Taiwan and demanded the US suspend any similar plans in the future, citing that it hampers Sino-US relations and urging the US to honor the one-China policy. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to comment on the most recent bill.

The House bill, entitled HR 3470, the Taiwan Relations Act Affirmation and Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2014, was introduced by House Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on November 13, 2013. By due process, the bill will be sent on to the US Senate for a vote. If passed, it will be sent on to President Obama for signing into law.

Two of the four proposed Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates - the USS Taylor and USS Gary -entered military service in 1984, while the other two - USS Carr and USS Elrod - started in service the following year.

Douglas Paal, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan and now vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the bill "should be taken seriously" but is uncertain about its likelihood to be passed.

"This House bill, which would have to pass the Senate to reach the president's desk, is far from being the law of the land, but coming so is possible," said Paal, adding that "Chairman Royce was recently in Taipei and may have interacted with the authorities there to judge receptivity for these old ships."

Jon Taylor, a professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas, views this bill as "a needless provocation" and said the bill "does nothing but unnecessarily strain both China-US relations and cross-straits relations."

"If the US wants to have smooth relations with China, one place to start is arms and missile sales to Taiwan. Cancellation of the F-16 upgrades helped, but the eventual end of arms sales to Taiwan would signal that US policy still remains committed to the one-China policy," he said.

Other than selling the retired naval vessels to Taiwan, the bill also authorizes "the transfer of excess, decommissioned naval vessels" to Thailand and Mexico, which is one of the ways the US dispenses of its used arms.

The house committee's press release also states that the bill "benefits the US taxpayer by reducing the Navy's storage costs and supports US jobs through ship refurbishments performed in US shipyards".

Congressman Royce, the bill's main sponsor, represents Southern California's 39th District, which includes parts ofLos Angeles,OrangeandSan Bernardinocounties and is home to one of the largest Taiwanese-American communities in the US.

Royce has been a member of the Taiwan Caucus since arriving in Congress in 1993.He chose Taiwan as his first official overseas trip destination after assuming the chairmanship in January 2013.

US arms sales to Taiwan have been a destabilizing factor in US-China relations since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1979, often causing the suspension and cancellation of high-level visits and military exchanges.

According to the Joint Communique China and the US announced on Aug 17, 1982, the US declared it "does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan" and that "the United States acknowledges China's consistent position regarding the thorough settlement of this issue".

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(China Daily USA 04/09/2014 page1)