Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S.-Taiwan Arms Deals
DE RUEHIN #1424/01 2750130
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 010130Z OCT 08
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0038
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 8618
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0068
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 001424
DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/PA, EAP/PD - NIDA EMMONS
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: U.S.-TAIWAN ARMS DEALS
1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage September 27-30 on Super Typhoon Jangmi, which pounded
Taiwan heavily Sunday and Monday, bringing massive rains and causing
considerable damage to the island; on the House of Representatives'
veto of the Bush Administration's Wall Street bailout package plan
Monday; and on the Taiwan government's efforts to eliminate the
political storm and panic around the island caused by the
melamine-tainted dairy products from China. In addition, almost all
papers reported on the U.S. State Department's failure to notify
Congress of proposed arms sales to Taiwan before the latter by
September 26. The pro-unification "United Daily News" front-paged a
news story Sunday with the headline "Taiwan Misjudges the Situation,
U.S. Arms Sales All Gone." The same paper also ran a banner
headline on page two Sunday reading "Arms Sales Come to Nothing, Ma
Gets Defeated Both Internally and Externally." The centrist,
KMT-leaning "China Times" also ran a news story on page six Monday
with the headline "The United States is Essentially Freezing Arms
Sales [to Taiwan], Slapping Ma Right in the Face."
2. Almost all major Chinese-language and English-language dailies
carried editorial pieces on the failed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
An editorial in the pro-independence "Liberty Times" said the defeat
of major U.S. arms sales to Taiwan concretely and subtly reflects a
chain reaction of the Ma Administration's alleged capitulationism,
and should the Ma Administration continue to act "arbitrarily,"
Taiwan's future will be "inconceivable." A separate "Liberty Times"
op-ed said that, in addition to AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt's
serious warning to the Ma Administration by asserting the 'two
noes,' the freeze of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan marks the second
severe warning to President Ma Ying-jeou. Columnist Antonio Chiang
said in his column in the mass-circulation "Apple Daily" that
Washington-Taipei ties have plunged to their lowest point, and
Taipei had better prepare for the worst. A "China Times" op-ed
questioned whether Washington will be willing to help defend Taiwan
from a Chinese attack if Taiwan spends a huge amount of money buying
U.S. weapons. A separate "China Times" column said that since Iran
and North Korea now top the U.S. agenda, Taiwan's arms procurements
have to be put on hold for a while. A "United Daily News" op-ed
criticized the Ma Administration for being over-confident and
misjudging the situation, which resulted in both loss of his face
and of substance. A separate "United Daily News" op-ed, however,
called on the public not to distort Taiwan-U.S. relations with the
stalled U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. An editorial in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" said the failed
U.S. arms procurement "is a serious blow to the Ma administration's
efforts to work with the U.S. and to Ma's national security
strategies." End summary.
A) "The Ma Administration's Line of Ultimate Unification [with
China] Has Put Taiwan's Foreign Relations and Military on the Verge
The pro-independence "Liberty Times" [circulation: 700,000]
"The U.S. State Department has failed to notify Congress of the arms
procurements items (including the submarines) that Taiwan hoped to
purchase before the latter went into recess. Despite the fact that
State Department officials reiterated that the arms deals are still
under inter-departmental review, which will not be affected by an
external timeline, the United States is about to hold its
presidential election and, should the Bush Administration fail to
deal with the arms sales to Taiwan during its lame-duck period, the
entire case will have to be reconsidered by the new U.S.
administration, and surely the case will become more complex and
difficult. It is really doubtful whether such arms deals will be
approved, whether they will effectively fill the gap of Taiwan's
military strength, given the postponement, and be able to help
maintain the military balance across the Taiwan Strait should they
be approved. In particular, given that the Ma Ying-jeou
Administration's self-disparagement and castration of [Taiwan's]
sovereignty, which have resulted in Taiwan's squeezed international
space, Taiwan has gradually tread the road to isolation. The defeat
of major U.S. arms sales to Taiwan has concretely and subtly
reflected a chain effect of the Ma Administration's capitulationism.
If the Ma Administration continues to act arbitrarily, Taiwan's
future will be inconceivable. ...
"... Under such circumstances, the arms deals have [unexpectedly]
failed to become a reality. If it is not because the United States
has seen through the Blue camp's perfunctory lip service [in
supporting the arms deals] and simply decided to shelve the deals,
it must be for the reason that the Ma Administration's line of
ultimate unification has evidently raised doubts in the
international community. The United States, in particular, is
worried that Taiwan has no determination to defend itself, and once
those advanced weapons are sold to Taiwan, they may not only fail to
be brought into full play in their function of deterring China from
invading the island, but they might even run the risk of falling
into the hands of China. ... In fact, the biggest warning signal
sent by the stalled [U.S.] arms sales lies in the fact that Taiwan's
independent status was strongly questioned by the international
community after the Ma Administration came to power. ..."
B) "For the Second Time the United States Has Sent a Severe Warning
to Ma Ying-jeou"
World United Formosans for Independence Deputy Secretary-General
Chen Kuo-hsiung noted in the pro-independence "Liberty Times"
[circulation: 700,000] (9/30):
"... Despite the fact that the Bush Administration showed little
faith in the Bian Administration in recent years, Washington still
announced last year that it had approved the sale to Taiwan of 12
P-3C anti-submarine aircraft and 144 SM-2 missiles. But
Washington's total freeze of the seven-item arms procurements
proposed by the Ma Administration shows that it is a vote of no
confidence against the Ma Administration. The KMT, when previously
serving as the opposition party, had talked glibly about its
opposition to the overpriced arms procurements, and rumor had it
that when the Ma Administration had just assumed office, Ma's close
aides had told Washington that [Taiwan] would 'not buy any weapons'
[from the United States]. Such emotional rhetoric might be the fuse
that irritates Washington and triggers it to decide to 'freeze' the
arms sales, but the fundamental reason is Washington's distrust of
the Ma Administration's security strategy. ...
"Even though Washington is happy to see a peaceful and stable
cross-Strait situation, it is by no means happy to see Taiwan become
a dependency of China. But the Ma Administration's efforts blindly
to tilt toward China after since assumed office have drawn great
doubts from the United States, which thus judged that the chances
are high for the Ma Administration to seek unification with China.
Therefore, AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt conveyed the 'two noes' to
the Ma Administration in late August (Namely, there should be no
hint that China has sovereignty over Taiwan, and that Beijing cannot
have the final say regarding any of Taiwan's activities in the
international community). [Burghardt's remarks] were the United
States' first severe warning to the Ma Administration, and the
freeze of the seven-item arms procurements proposed by the Ma
Administration marked as its second warning. Should there be a
third warning, it will be three strikes and you're out, and the Ma
Administration has to be careful of that."
C) "Consequences of Arms Sales Freeze"
Columnist Antonio Chiang wrote in his column in the mass-circulation
"Apple Daily" [circulation: 520,000] (9/30):
"Taiwan's proposed arms procurements from the United States have all
come to nothing, breaking the record set since the '817 Communique'
in 1982. Bush's freeze of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan marked
Taipei-Washington ties plunging to a lowest point. Unless major
changes occur in Sino-American relations, given such a precedent,
[Taipei-Washington ties] will hardly return to what they used to be,
and Taiwan had better be prepared for the worst scenario. ...
"Some people say the United States will not give up on Taiwan
because [the Americans] do not want to see the Taiwan Strait become
China's inland sea. This may sound correct judging from the
perspective of global strategy. But the U.S. State Department may
not hold the same view. Besides, the host of the White House sees
practical political interests as its top priority, and Congressional
voices in supporting Taiwan have nearly vanished. What is left is
nothing but the Defense Department's concern for arms sales to
Taiwan. But the professional opinion provided by the Pentagon
merely serves as a reference for the White House' decision-making.
D) "[To Reach] Three Percent [of Taiwan's GDP] Just for the Sake of
Doing It, [There We] See the Arrogant and Perfunctory [Attitude] of
C.V. Chen, President of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of
China and former Secretary-General of Taiwan's Straits Exchange
Foundation, wrote in a column in the centrist, KMT-leaning "China
Times" [circulation: 220,000] (9/29):
"... Those who advocate expensive arms procurements (packaged by the
[so-called] 'reasonable arms procurements') usually cite two
reasons: First, [Taiwan needs sufficient] combat preparedness so as
to stop war; and, second, [Taiwan needs to] demonstrate to the
United States its defense determination. A third reason that people
believe there is no need to let others know is that it is to reduce
the opposition parties' doubts against the Ma Administration's
tilting toward the Beijing government. ... There might not be zero
chance for [Taiwan] to stop a war with sufficient combat
preparedness. But the question is: What are the chances? What is
the price to pay? Why don't [we] do the opposite by throwing [all]
the resources into improving cross-Strait relations so as to reduce
the possibility of war? In other words, since cross-Strait
relations have greatly improved under the policy of the Ma
Administration, why doesn't [the Ma Administration] clearly tell its
people that we are incapable, and there is no need [for Taiwan] to
maintain a costly national defense budget that is flashy but has no
"Will costly arms procurements demonstrate Taiwan's defense
determination to the United States? But will the United States be
willing to help defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack (since this is
the only possibility under which Taiwan is capable of defending
itself effectively against Chinese attack) after Taiwan has spent a
huge amount of money buying weapons from the United States? If
Washington is interested in demonstrating its 'determination to
defend Taiwan,' it should sign a treaty with Taiwan and be committed
to sending troops to defend the island when Beijing uses force
against Taiwan. Should that be the case, this writer will consider
supporting the arms procurements, even if the budget for U.S. arms
sales to Taiwan doubles.
"But will the United States be willing to commit itself? Of course
not. That is because the United States does not want to sabotage
its relations with Beijing, which is already a world power, for
Taiwan's sake. If Washington cannot possibly promise to send troops
to help defend Taiwan now, how are we supposed to expect that it
will do so if Beijing attacks us? Due to its scruples against
Beijing, the United States is not even interested in selling some
'outdated symbolic' weapons (those that will not create threats to
Beijing) to Taiwan, [so] how are we supposed to expect that the
United States will send troops to help defend Taiwan when Beijing
uses force against the island?"
E) "Iran, North Korea Are Top Priority; Taiwan [Needs to] Get out of
Deputy Editor-in-Chief Kuo Chen-lung wrote in the International
Column of the centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times" [circulation:
"... Perhaps the United States is still willing to sell arms to
Taiwan, but this [past] week was too sensitive. Should [the U.S.
Executive Branch] have notified Congress [last] Friday, new
complications might have created while the proposal on Iran that is
under negotiation rages like a fire. Washington has also decided to
re-start negotiations with North Korea, and Beijing's support is all
the more key to this issue. The climate of international politics
has determined the progress of Taipei-Washington relations. ...
Washington never allows other countries to intervene in its arms
sales decisions, but since Washington and Beijing have both been
very skilled in fighting hand-to-hand with each other, one will know
what it really means when referring to the Taiwan issue. It is all
about timing when it comes to diplomacy. Since it is now all about
Iran and North Korea, Washington has naturally put the arms sales to
Taiwan on hold."
F) "Arms Sales Come to Nothing; Ma Ying-jeou Is Defeated Internally
Washington correspondent Vincent Chang and Journalist Stella Wang
wrote in an analysis in the pro-unification "United Daily News"
[circulation: 400,000] (9/28):
"... Ma Ying-jeou has expressed his attitude several times about
carrying out the arms procurements in an attempt to eliminate the
Bush Administration's doubts about the new Ma Administration's
overly tilting toward China. But since President Bush has had a
very poor impression of Taiwan's high-ranking politicians over these
last few years, plus the fact that he has obtained a certain degree
of mutual trust with the Chinese authorities over many international
cooperation issues such as anti-terrorism and the Six-Party Talks,
Bush has turned out in the end to be a key figure in blocking U.S.
arms sales to Taiwan. ...
"The results of the failed seven-item arms procurement should be
able to wake up [Taiwan's] decision-makers that it has always been
the seller that has plays an upper hand in U.S. arms sales to
Taiwan. Washington has no concern for Taiwan when the later boasts
without shame about the 'yellow light' or 'green light' for the arms
deals. When one reflects on the national security authorities'
attitude toward the arms procurements over the past six months,
which went from overly underestimating to overly confident, [it is
clear that] the authorities have been misjudging the situation all
the time, which finally resulted in [Taiwan's] losing both its face
and substance. ..."
G) "Do Not Distort Taipei-Washington Relations Over the [Failed]
Professor Chao Chun-shan of Tamkang University's Graduate Institute
of China Studies opined in the pro-unification "United Daily News"
[circulation: 400,000] (9/30):
"... When evaluating and judging the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, one
must not overlook the domestic U.S. factors and the future direction
of Washington-Beijing ties. Arms sales have never been a simple
military issue; they also involve economic, foreign relations, and
domestic political aspects. Washington's way of dealing with arms
sales to Taiwan this time was not determined by any single factor.
If one tries to exaggerate by saying the United States 'is giving
the Ma Administration a lesson,' it would be akin to simplifying a
complicated military deal and also complicating a simple
international and U.S. political subject. ..."
H) "KMT to Blame for Arms Sales Snafu"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (9/29):
"President Ma Ying-jeou's administration has suffered a major
diplomatic and national security defeat. As the US Congress
adjourned late on Friday, it had not received notification from the
State Department about the arms sale package for Taiwan, meaning the
package is certain to remain stalled. ... The [Taiwan] government
has consistently deceived both itself and the public over the arms
purchase. When Ma attended Armed Forces Day celebrations on Sept. 3,
he said: 'The latest signs from the US imply that the US government
will notify Congress that the legal procedures [for the arms sale]
should be completed.' ... In an interview on Sept. 9,
Representative in Washington Jason Yuan said: 'the arms purchase has
never been in question' and that work on the deal had never been
stopped. The reality, however, looks different.
"Does the US government's preoccupation with the US financial crisis
mean it isn't interested in selling arms? Not at all. The State
Department sent out notifications for arms deals with France,
Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Taiwanese deal has been
discussed for seven years. It can no longer be delayed with the
excuse that it is still under discussion. Both houses of Congress
have passed resolutions expressing concern over arms sales to Taiwan
and requiring that the administration give them regular detailed
briefings on the progress, a move that was opposed by both the State
Justice departments. The Justice Department even said the bill
'would infringe upon the president's right to conduct foreign
"This makes it clear that the case is not being blocked by Congress,
but by the State Department and the White House. This is a serious
blow to the Ma administration's efforts to work with the US and to
Ma's national security strategies. The Chinese Nationalist Party
(KMT) must assume responsibility for this result. Pan-blue camp
politicians boycotted what they called an overpriced arms
procurement deal since it was announced, using it as tool in their
political battles with former president Chen Shui-bian. To dispel
the Bush administration's misgivings over his pro-Beijing tilt, Ma
repeatedly said he would follow through on the arms purchase plan.
But the White House's commitment to defending Taiwan at any expense
has been replaced by disappointment in Taiwanese politicians.
"The US needs Beijing's cooperation in fighting terror, on North
Korea's nuclear disarmament and stabilizing the global financial
system. Arms sales to Taiwan may disturb its relations with China.
The Ma administration's unilateral tilt toward China has prompted
many US politicians and think tank experts to worry that arms and
military technology sold to Taiwan will be leaked to China. The KMT
and the Ma administration's misreading of the White House and the US
Congress has caused the arms procurement effort to fail. The
government must learn from this defeat, revise its faulty pro-China
strategies, make personnel changes in the National Security Bureau
and rebuild relations with the US. If it doesn't, there is a real
risk that relations between Taiwan, the US and China will become