By Wade Boese
The Pentagon informed Congress on September 28 of a proposed sale of 200 advanced dog-fighting missiles to Taiwan, five months after the Clinton administration first authorized making the missile available to the island. (See ACT, May 2000.) The deal, which would be worth $150 million, was announced as part of more than $1.3 billion in potential weapons transfers to Taiwan. China denounced the deals two days later and, in a subsequently released white paper, said that U.S. arms deliveries to Taiwan infringe on Chinese sovereignty.
Designed as a "fire-and-forget" missile, the beyond-visual-range AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) allows a pilot to engage targets at ranges of up to approximately 50 kilometers. The United States has approved AMRAAM exports to 19 other countries, including Japan and South Korea.
As with a September 27 proposed sale of up to 100 AMRAAMs to Singapore, the United States will reportedly not deliver the missiles to Taiwan unless other countries in the region acquire similar capabilities. China and Malaysia may both purchase the R-77, a comparable Russian missile.
A U.S. government official would not comment on "when or under what conditions deliveries would be made," saying only that the terms of the deal are classified. In an April 18 statement after Congress received word of the initial authorization, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) commented that "the notion of selling the missiles to Taiwan, but not letting them take possession of them, is an insult. What is Taiwan to do, call FedEx for its AMRAAMs after China attacks?"
China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, warned Washington on September 30 of "serious consequences" if the United States did not cancel its proposed Taiwan arms sales. China maintains that U.S. weapons sales to Taipei violate the 1982 Sino-U.S. Joint Communiqué, in which the United States stated that it "does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan" and would not provide the island with weapons that exceed in "qualitative or in quantitative terms" the level of weapons supplied before 1982.
During the past decade, the Pentagon has concluded more than $10 billion in arms sales agreements with Taiwan, which has signed a total of $17 billion in U.S. arms deals since late 1949. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, passed by Congress after the United States officially recognized Beijing, calls on the United States to "enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."
In a white paper released in October, "China's National Defense in 2000," Beijing reaffirmed it "firmly opposes any country selling arms to Taiwan." China also warned others against providing Taiwan with any theater missile defense (TMD) systems, components, and technology and against including Taiwan in a TMD system. Describing the Taiwan Strait situation as "complicated and grim," China cited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and talk of involving Taiwan in a TMD system as factors imperiling "the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region." The United States has not decided on whether it will supply Taiwan with TMD, though the possibility has not been ruled out.