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Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHIN #1443/01 2800949
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 060949Z OCT 08
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0080
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 8636
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0085

UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 001443

SIPDIS

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. ARMS SALES TO TAIWAN

1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage October 4-6 on the U.S. financial bailout bill, which U.S.
President George W. Bush signed into law Friday; on the approved
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan; and on the probe into the alleged
money-laundering case involving former President Chen Shui-bian.
The centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times" front-paged a banner
headline Sunday reading "The Largest-scale Ever and Worth over
NT$200 billion; Taiwan Receives Five Arms Sales Items from the
United States, Both Offensive and Defensive [Weapons] Combined."
The paper also ran a banner headline on page five the same day
reading "Arms Sales to Taiwan: Submarines Have Long Been Out, Black
Hawk [Utility Helicopters] to Be Decided by New U.S. President."

2. In terms of editorials and commentaries, an op-ed in the
pro-independence "Liberty Times" said Washington tossed off a
reduced arms sales package based on its own political concerns. A
separate "Liberty Times" op-ed criticized the Ma Ying-jeou
Administration's swinging strategy, saying it has made Taiwan lose
all its bargaining chips in the arms procurements. A "Liberty
Times" op-ed, however, alerted that the approved arms sales items
indicate that the United States is ready to let Taiwan go its own
way in the event of crisis in the Taiwan Strait. A "China Times"
editorial, by contrast, said the fact that Washington is willing to
offend Beijing for the arms sales showed that the essence of
U.S.-Taiwan relations remain intact. An analysis in the
pro-unification "United Daily News" alerted the Ma Administration to
attach equal importance to cross-Strait relations and its relations
with the United States, as the arms sales "indicate undercurrents in
Taipei-Washington relations". An editorial in the pro-independence,
English-language "Taipei Times" said "as encouraging as the news is,
the State Department's decision is more than likely to have been
motivated by limiting damage with China rather than optimizing
Taiwan's ability to defend itself." An editorial in the
pro-independence, English-language "Taiwan News" called the
U.S.-Taiwan arms deal a "warning, not a gift." End summary.

A) "Out of Political Concerns, the United States Tosses off Abridged
Arms Sales Package"

Washington correspondent Nadia Tsao wrote in the pro-independence
"Liberty Times" [circulation: 700,000] (10/5):

"The U.S. State Department has eventually notified to Congress its
arms sales items worth of US$6.4 billion. The move could make the
Ma Administration, which is pressured both inside and out, feel a
sense of relief for the time being; it has not only eliminated the
doubts about U.S. 'freezing' arms sales to Taiwan but has also
helped to justify to the Taiwan people that Washington has no
intention to be absent from the Ma Administration's efforts to
create a strategic climate of thawing cross-Strait relations. But
the Bush Administration's decision to toss off an abridged version
of U.S. arms sales package based on its own political concerns
rather than pure consideration of Taiwan's defense needs may not
necessarily sound like good news for Taiwan in the long run.

"The Ma Administration's approval ratings in Taiwan have kept on
dropping. But judging from the reactions of Beijing and Washington,
even though Taipei has failed to get all the weapon items it wants,
both the United States and China are still willing to toss off some
of their bargaining chips on the table and keep playing the game
with the Ma Administration. ..."

B) "Ma's Strategy Swinging; Taiwan Has Lost All Its Bargaining
Chips"

Journalist Peng Hsien-chun wrote in an analysis in the
pro-independence "Liberty Times" [circulation: 700,000] (10/5):

"... Even though the [U.S.] arms deals have been settled and
[Taipei's] apprehension has thus been removed, it remains a reality
that Washington has 'made things difficult' for the Ma
Administration. The Ma Administration has been swaying and
hesitating between the United States and China, making people wonder
whether it wants to go 'left' or 'right.' [The Ma Administration's]
ambiguous strategy is, without a doubt, the basic reason why there
have been ripples in Washington-Taipei ties. Washington's approval
of the arms sales was more of a symbolic move than a substantive
one. It showed that the Ma Administration, which is eager to tilt
toward China and improve cross-Strait relations, had better not
exercise wishful thinking and thus exclude itself from the
established order dominated by the international powers. Even
though the balance between international powers is changing rapidly,
Taiwan remains a weak pawn [in the international community]. ..."

C) "The Arms Sales Crisis as Viewed from William Murray's Study"

Lai I-chung, former director of DPP's International Affairs
Department, opined in the pro-independence "Liberty Times"
[circulation: 700,000] (10/6):


"... A close comparison between the approved arms sales items and a
recent document regarding the U.S. strategy towards Taiwan indicate
that the arms sales do not result in an advancement of the U.S.
commitment to Taiwan; instead, they appear to be an omen showing
that Washington is ready to let Taiwan go its own way in the event
of crisis in the Taiwan Strait. ... The 'Nelson Report' released on
October 1 pointed out that both the U.S. and Taiwan national
security authorities have paid close attention to an article,
entitled 'Revisiting Taiwan's Defense Strategy,' written by William
Murray and published in the "US Naval War College Review" in July.
The arms sales items approved this time were more or less consistent
with what was suggested in Murray's article. ...

"As a matter of fact, Murray's suggestions had nothing to do with
how Taiwan should defend itself; they were more like suggesting how
the United States could leave Taiwan alone [in the event of
cross-Strait tension]. ... The KMT has tried everything it could to
block the arms procurements over the last eight years, resulting in
a military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait, so this is the chief
culprit that has caused [Murray's suggestions]. But the suggested
hands-off strategy as implied in [Murray's article] seemed to be
proved in the arms sales this time. The [U.S.] signal sent via its
arms sales is worrisome as to whether Washington will see giving up
Taiwan as one of its options."

D) "U.S.-China-Taiwan Relations in the Wake of Approved Arms
Procurements"

The centrist, KMT-leaning "China Times" [circulation: 220,000]
editorialized (10/6):

"... In any rate, the fact that the arms procurements have passed
has in itself rebutted many previous arguments about the issue.
What one really should pay attention to is: Where are future
Washington-Beijing-Taipei ties headed? First, judging from Taiwan's
interests and position, while the cross-Strait relations are
thawing, Taiwan still needs to maintain a robust defense, including
upgrading the capabilities of its weapons, strengthening the
joint-defensive relations with its allies, self-developing weapons
and buying weapons from other countries. Also, military cooperation
with other allies and observation of their military exercises must
keep on as planned.

"To put it in a more concretely, military cooperation, including
arms procurements, should be bilateral matters between Taiwan and
the United States, which should not and need not be discussed by
both sides of the Taiwan Strait. By the same token, we also hope
that Washington will not discuss with Beijing its arms sales to
Taiwan and will simply use its security commitment to Taiwan as
specified in the Taiwan Relations Act as its guideline. After all,
only when Beijing is really willing to reduce its military threats
toward Taiwan and when both sides enter [the stage of] talks over a
cease-fire agreement and confidence-building measures should [the
issue of] arms sales possibly be laid on the table.

"Second, the fact that Washington is willing to offend Beijing over
arms procurements this time indicates that the essence of
Taiwan-U.S. relations remain unchanged. The move has also
re-identified the reality in international politics -- namely, the
United States' original hope and intention that both sides of the
Taiwan Strait would stay separate politically have remained intact,
and Taiwan's armaments will be its bargaining chips and capital when
it talks with Beijing. The United States does not want Taiwan to
develop or obtain 'offensive' weapons, so it left out submarines and
called for a halt to the mid-range surface-to-surface missiles, as
'defensive' weapons will help to maintain both sides politically
separate. ..."

E) "United States' Dealing a Head Blow [to Taiwan Indicates]
Undercurrents beneath U.S.-Taiwan Relations"

Journalist Stella Wang wrote in an analysis in the pro-unification
"United Daily News" [circulation: 400,000] (10/5):

"... In the face of its internal economic predicament and pressure
from mainland China, the United States agreed to sell those less
complicated weapon items [to Taiwan]. It is able to keep its
commitment specified in the Taiwan Relations Act on the one hand,
and it will not offend Beijing on the other. Washington can make a
huge amount of money and also keep an upper hand in manipulating the
strategic triangle among Washington, Beijing and Taipei. Yet the
United States has chosen to notify Congress on the last day of
Congress' extended session; the apparent reason was that the matter
had been under inter-departmental screening, but in reality, it was
Washington's intention to deal a head blow to the Ma Administration,
as Taiwan had long since issued a letter of request and Washington
should have reviewed it a long time ago. ...

"The Ma Administration must be vigilant and be aware that
cross-Strait relations are of equal importance to its relations with
the United States; it should not allow any unexpected mistake or
accident in the way it handles the matter. Part of the arms
procurements proposal has been approved, and the Ma Administration
should not spend too much time feeling happy about it. The Ma
Administration should start proactively to construct friendly
relations and mutual trust with the Democratic and Republican
Parties. No matter who comes into power in the United States in
2009, Taipei-Washington relations must enter a new period of
stability."

F) "The End of the Freeze"

The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (10/4):

"It has been an epic display of brinkmanship. The U.S. State
Department, after perhaps a year of holding up processes that would
have delivered promised arms to Taiwan, has relented and will
reactivate the deals prior to the U.S. presidential election,
possibly allowing delivery to be approved by Congress before the
current session ends. ... The importance of the effort to unfreeze
the arms deal cannot be understated as far as US foreign policy is
concerned. As a number of analysts have suggested, leaving the
problem to next year would have left both a Republican and
Democratic president with an unnecessary burden. Starting a term as
U.S. president by releasing arms to Taiwan would be far more
damaging to U.S.-China ties than releasing them in the dying days of
the current presidential term.

"The release of arms also lets the next president craft a China
policy relatively unsullied by the ham-fisted behavior of everyone
involved in recent years. As encouraging as the news is, the State
Department's decision is more than likely to have been motivated by
limiting damage with China rather than optimizing Taiwan's ability
to defend itself. In this respect, Taiwan continues to fall behind,
and rapidly so, not just in terms of arms procurements and combat
readiness but also in terms of the ideological hollowness of
Taiwan's government, the political exhaustion of ordinary people and
President Ma Ying-jeou's refusal in rhetorical and practical terms
to treat Taiwan as a genuine polity and Taiwanese people as his
compatriots and masters. ... In the near future, however, it is
hoped that the State Department, which has so much influence over
policy and its implementation, can play a more constructive and
supportive role in US-Taiwan relations than it has done under the
Bush administration."

G) "U.S.-Taiwan Arms Deal Is Warning, Not Gift"

The pro-independence, English-language "Taiwan News" [circulation:
20,000] editorialized (10/6):

"... The long-term delay of this sale and the uncertainty it
produced regarding the state of U.S.-Taiwan relations and the
reliability of Washington's commitment to fulfill the requirements
of the Taiwan Relations Act has already damaged both the morale of
the Taiwan people and the quality of Taiwan's national security that
cannot be early swept away by Bush's belated decision. Moreover,
the package was only about half of the originally proposed US$12
billion deal and did not include important defensive weapon systems
that Taiwan had previously proposed, including diesel-electric
submarines, which Washington had already approved, and UH-60 'Black
Hawk' helicopters.

"Even more unfortunate, Washington did not include advanced F-16 C/D
Falcon jet fighters in the package, a decision that will make it
difficult for Taiwan to maintain a balance in air defense in the
Taiwan Strait in the face of the rapid modernization of the PRC air
force, which is being equipped with fourth-generation Sukhoi-30 and
Sukhoi-27 jet fighters far superior to Taiwan's current mix of
F-16s, Mirage 2000Es and IDF indigenous defense fighters. Instead
of unreservedly welcoming this decision, as did Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, we believe the Taiwan government should take the failure to
secure F-16 C/Ds as a grave warning of the failure of the restored
Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government of President Ma
Ying-jeou to rebuild a relationship of mutual trust and respect with
Washington. ... Indeed, the Ma government should carefully take the
inability to secure F-16 C/Ds and the halving of the package as a
grave warning to re-evaluate the implications and reconsider the
content of its current policies of 'placing cross-strait relations
above diplomacy" and "neglecting national defense to curry favor
with China.' ..."

YOUNG

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