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Pacific News Minute: Politics the Most Important Part of Taiwan Arms Deal

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A week ago, the Obama administration announced the sale of $1.83-billion dollars of weapons to Taiwan.  Beijing responded by calling in the US Charge D'affaires to complain about violations of China's sovereignty and security interests.  In fact, the sale was on the small side - as such things go and as we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, more about politics than military capability.

Two refurbished frigates, three dozen amphibious assault vessels, advanced data links to hook weapons systems together.  Not insignificant, but nothing to change the lopsided military balance across the Taiwan Strait.  Taiwan did not receive the advanced version of the F16 fighter it requested.

Taiwan knows well that even modest American sales prompt outrage in Beijing and that other weapons exporters will not risk relations with mainland China.  For example, repeated attempts to buy diesel electric submarines have all failed.  In response, Taiwan has developed its own weapons industry.  Its best so far may be a super-sonic anti-ship missile called the Hsiung Feng III and there are plans to start a domestic submarine program.  But even so, Taiwan openly admits that its forces could not hold off an all-out assault for more than a few weeks.  Ultimately, it relies on the promise of intervention by the US Navy.

Relations with the mainland have been good these past eight years.  Just last month, President Xi Jing Ping met with his Taiwanese Counterpart for the very first time.  But next month, a much more skeptical President is expected to take office in Taipei, as Tsai Ing-Wen and her Democratic Progressives are heavily favored over the more pro-Beijing Kuomintang.  Which makes the timing of this arms sale important as a commitment of continued American support.  While its size acknowledges that the US will not do anything, to shift the military status quo.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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