Taiwan shrugs off US-China arms deal

The spirit-dampening news of the US decision to lift restrictions on arms sales to the People's Republic of China came just before the June typhoon rains.

The official reaction here, as expressed by Foreign Ministry spokesman C. J. Chen, was: "We are deeply concerned over this unfortunate decision because it is not in the interest of the peace and stability of the vast Asian and Pacific region."

But on balance, the typhoon clouds had more of a darkening effect on this small but booming island nation than did the news from Peking.

Mr. Chen went on to say, "Mainlaind China has never given up the objective of 'liberating' Taiwan and has never renounced the use of force against Taiwan. Last year Deng Xiaoping repeated that one of the missions of the mainland during the '80s is to liberate Taiwan."

A senior military officer and strategist here agrees that the US decision is regrettable but says he wasn't surprised by it. "If anything, it was a consequence of former steps."

He added, "When [former Defense] Secretary Brown went to China, they already had a shopping list."

Taiwan has a shopping list, too. No decision has been made, but Taiwan wants to buy the FX fighter plane and other US equipment. One official says, "We can produce our own ships down in Gaoxiong, but we need American electronics and their more advanced equipment."

He said that Taiwan is currently strong enough to defend itself, because of the good -- for Taiwan -- ratio of operational combat ability and weapons between the People's Republic and Taiwan.But he said it is up to the US to keep selling arms to both sides to maintain a safe ratio.

He also said he is sure the US will continue to sell arms to Taiwan, which has a permanent military purchasing mission in Washington. "It was there before the US recognized mainland China and it has been there since."

Why will the US continue to sell weapons to Taiwan, this analyst was asked. "Because Taiwan is strong enough to protect the seal lanes through which one-third of the free world's petroleum passes, as well as the valuable minerals of the Indian Ocean." He referred to such resources as cobalt 59, used in making jet engines and strategic weapons.

Kang Ningxiang, a member of the legislature, agrees that it is in the US interest to protect Taiwan, through arms sales, and he feels that the US probably will. He said the US is drawing closer to China for reasons of "world strategy," a move probably necessary from the US perspective.

In a newspapers here, great emphasis was given to Mr. Reagan's statement to the press, after Secretary Haig's return from China, that the US intends to live up to the Taiwan Relations Act, which provides for sales of defense equipment to Taiwan, and the above-mentioned senior military official expressed his feeling that the US would continue to sell arms to Taiwan for these two reasons:

* Military commodities, he said, constitute one-twelth of US trade, and arms sales to Taiwan benefit the US economy and balance of trade. He noted that the US has sold weapons to both the Arabs and the Israelis.

* It is in the interest of the US, Japan, and South Korea, as well as Taiwan, to maintain peace, stability, and a free flow of trade traffic in East Asia and the Pacific. This analyst emphasized: "By choice, we belong to the democratic ca mp. This will never change."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.