Cross-Straits military balance needs another look

Updated: 2011-09-28 17:09

By Zhang Hua (

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Chaos from a new round of arms sales to Taiwan in nearly two years has finally settled. On Sept 21, the US government notified Congress formally about $5.85 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, including upgrading its 145 F-16 fighter jets with new radars and weapons systems. This is the third large-scale US arms sale to Taiwan since Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008.

Some overseas scholars and media said that the most important reason for US arms sales to Taiwan was “to maintain cross-Straits military balance, to make Taiwan own more confidence and a sense of security to go forward in developing cross-Straits relations.”

This analysis is not only a serious miscarriage of justice of the US Taiwan policy, but also badly undermines the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.

During the 1970s and 1980s, when Taiwan’s economic development was healthy, they could spend a lot of money to buy weapons and equipments. Then the air force and navy of Taiwan may have a comparative advantage, and there was a certain kind of military balance.

However, with the development of the Chinese mainland, maintaining military balance is almost nonsense. Nowadays, compared with the mainland, 1.3 billion people and the world’s second largest economy, Taiwan has no advantage. In the foreseeable future, the gap between the mainland and the island in the political, economic, and military aspects won’t narrow, but gradually widen.

Destructive enthusiasm does not help. The arms sale to Taiwan didn’t, doesn’t and won’t achieve military balance across the Taiwan Strait. Peace and stability across the strait, not military balance, is the object of the United States Taiwan policy.

Since Kissinger’s secret trip to China in the 1970s, the US government has been seeking a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question. US successive administrations never change this policy, and the senior officials repeat this in all Taiwan-related remarks. So the US policy and measure, including arms sales to Taiwan, all serve this purpose.

So why are commentators harping on their “military balance” theory?

Last year, there was a debate among US scholars over the Taiwan question. Some scholars represented by Robert Sutter said that cross-Straits power realities and trends posed a broader challenge to the long-term US goal of maintaining a balance and influence in the Taiwan area, so adjustments were needed for the US.

The other policy specialist represented by Richard Bush and Alan Romberg, former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and deputy spokesman for the US State Department, respectively, argued that Sutter confused means and outcome. “The goal since the mid-1950s has been the maintenance of peace and stability across the Straits, including through the peaceful resolution of issues between Beijing and Taipei.” Maintaining a balance of power and influence has just been a means to that target. Diplomacy, fostering a good relationship with Beijing and encouraging cross-Strait cooperation are also effective means.

Without a doubt,Richard Bush and Alan Romberg, who enjoy the best understanding of the US Taiwan policy, won the debate.

I also agree with Bush and Romberg. Obviously, dialogue, consultation and negotiation are the best option to safeguard peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits, and peaceful development of cross-Straits relations is undoubtedly the most in line with the interests of the United States.

Zhang Hua, PhD, researcher at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, CASS