By: Anya Susarina
Pace International Law Review, Junior Associate
On January 29, 2009, the United States announced its plan to sell $6.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan. The deal included Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, and advanced communications gear. In response, China, which considers Taiwanese territory its own, said the sale will cause “severe harm” to overall U.S.-China cooperation. Currently, the U.S. and China are collaborating on the international issues of the global financial crisis and efforts in suppressing the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, He Yafei, said that the Washington decision is considered an interference in Chinese domestic affairs and warned of “serious repercussions.” The Foreign Ministry also threatened sanctions against U.S. companies involved in the arms sales. China’s angry reaction to the proposed sales is not unexpected. In 2008, China cut off military ties with the U.S. after the former Bush administration announced a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan.
The U.S. Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, stated that the U.S. decision “reinforces [the] commitment to stability in [Taiwan].” Crowley also said the sale is in line with the principles of the U.S. “one-China” policy – the policy that officially recognizes solely the Beijing government. In addition, the U.S. has a legal obligation to sell Taiwan weapons it needs to defend itself according to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. Pursuant to the Act, the U.S. is Taiwan’s most important ally and the largest arms supplier. The proposed sale is said to promote the stability in the region in view of China’s threats to invade Taiwan if it attempts to formalize its de facto independence. Today, China has more than 1000 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.
The China-Taiwan conflict stems from the controversy regarding the political status of the latter. In 1949, the KMT, the group in opposition of the Communist revolution on mainland, fled to Taiwan, also known as Formosa Island, and established the Republic of China. The Chinese Nationalist government formed in Taiwan was subsequently recognized by the United Nations, the United States, and other countries as the rightful government. In 1971, mainland China took over Taiwan’s seat in the United Nations. Today, the issue remains whether Taiwan is a legitimate state and can effectively exist as a separate political entity or whether it should become unified with mainland China.