Taiwan risks being used as strategic pawn, analysts warn

The United States' decision to sell weapons to Taiwan will help strengthen the latter's self-defence capabilities to "maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait", said the island yesterday, but analysts warned about the risk of Taiwan being used as a strategic pawn.

The US$1.42 billion (S$1.95 billion) weapons package, which includes technical support for early warning radar, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, torpedoes and missile components, would be the first arms sales to Taiwan under US President Donald Trump.

It comes a day after a proposal by a US Senate panel to allow US warships to call at Taiwan's ports.

Analysts say that the recent moves might be viewed as a continuation of stable Taiwan-US relations. But they questioned if Taiwan might be used as a "pawn" by Mr Trump in his move to step up pressure on Beijing to do more to rein in a belligerent North Korea and its nuclear ambitions.

National Chengchi University political analyst Yen Chen-shen said the US appears to want to send a message to China to "not to be complacent" in conducting Sino-US ties.

Taiwan should not be "too excited" about the weapons package but be wary of the overtures from the United States, Dr Yen told The Straits Times. Taiwan should also continue to seek a pro-active role in dealing with China.

"Taiwan can reciprocate the nice gestures from the US but not at the expense of offending China. It is not even worth it if, at the end of the day, Taiwan does not even deepen ties with the US," he said.

  • $1.95b

  • Value of US arms sales package, which includes technical support for early warning radar, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, torpedoes and missile components.

Taiwan's presidential office said the weapons package "increases Taiwan's confidence and ability to maintain the status quo of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait".

"On this basis, we will continue to seek constructive dialogue with Beijing, and promote positive developments in cross-strait relations," said the office. It added that Taiwan would continue to increase its defence investments.

The sale of arms has angered China, which sees self-ruling Taiwan as a breakaway province. The US is Taiwan's only major political ally and its sole arms supplier.

A US State Department official sought to play down the arms sales, saying it was primarily "upgrades to existing defence capabilities aimed at converting current legacy systems from analogue to digital".

Taiwan expert Ross Feingold at political consultancy DC International Advisor told The Straits Times that the weapons package should not come as a surprise as discussions for it were already ongoing before Mr Trump took office.

Mr Feingold, however, said Taiwan should take a "long-term perspective" in the way it conducts its relations with China and the US as it remains to be seen if the latest arms sales signals a change in the way the US does business.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan risks being used as strategic pawn, analysts warn'. Print Edition | Subscribe