US awakens Chinese dragon over Taiwan arms deal
Beijing has announced it may punish US aviation companies involved in the multibillion-dollar arms deal, while Taipei remains defiant in the face of criticism from the mainland.
The arms deal approved by US President Barack Obama last week consists of 60 Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot missiles, and sophisticated communication systems supplied by several US aviation companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
The total package is reportedly worth a cool $6.4 billion.
This is not the first time the US has supplied Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, with weapons. The response from Beijing this time around, however, has been nothing short of outrage.
In addition to announcing that it would suspend military and security contacts with Washington, Beijing threatened to impose sanctions on US firms involved in the deal. Boeing, through its McDonnell Douglas subsidiary, which has agreed to sell Harpoon missiles to Taiwan, stands to lose the most.
As the Chinese economy continues to post enviable economic data amidst the worst global economic implosion since the 1930s, it is experiencing a burst of air travel amongst its increasingly affluent citizens.
“The Chinese market has been amazing last year,” Randy Tinseth, Boeing Vice President, told reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow. “As… markets struggled last year, about 220 million people in China traveled domestically – that was up about 21% from the year before.”
China is Boeing's biggest international market, representing a full 4% of its profits last year alone.
Another 15 million Chinese passengers traveled on international routes in 2009, Tinseth said, citing data projecting that air travel will grow 13% on the mainland this year.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Monday showing that Asia had surpassed North America as the world's largest air travel market with 647 million passengers in 2009. This is business that Boeing does not want to see fall through its fingers.
“This a government-to-government issue… These types of sales are between governments and we cannot control them,” Tinseth added, as quoted by AFP.
“I believe it's too early to speculate on what the impact might be to the industry and to us.”
A superpower to be reckoned with?
China, which has long downplayed its global ambitions, cringes at the very mention of it attaining “superpower” status. This attitude conforms to Chinese thinking, which tends to view events from a cyclical perspective (as opposed to the Western linear). In other words, if things are going great now, pretty soon things will turn for the worse, and vice versa. Therefore, it’s better not to trumpet your present successes too loudly.
As analysts continue to post predictions that China will soon surpass the United States as the world’s premier economic powerhouse, the two countries have been busy sparring against each other with soft gloves inside a padded cell.
On January 17, 2007, for example, China aroused global attention when it successfully downed an inactive weather satellite with the help of a “kinetic kill vehicle” that was launched into space via a medium range ballistic missile. Prior to the test, only the United States and the Soviet Union had the technological know-how to destroy a satellite in outer space.
The mission triggered condemnation from the United States, which saw the threat that such experiments posed for its constellation of military satellites – its critical “eye in the sky”.
“Our space assets are the first asset on the scene,” said John Pike, a satellite expert at globalsecurity.org. “They are absolutely central to why we are a superpower – a signature component to America's style of warfare.”
In early January, China announced it had successfully tested an anti-missile defense system, which echoes American efforts to build a similar system in Eastern Europe.
Indeed, China seems to be getting real pleasure from breathing down America’s back at every turn, replicating technological achievements that were at one time the sole domain of American and Russian scientists. The next Chinese surprise, if pulled off, will trample on America’s dearest technological achievement to date: putting a man on the surface of the moon.
“In India and China things are happening quickly,” writes Colin Pillinger in the Guardian website. “These countries are not afraid of making mistakes and learning from them. They've both had recent lunar missions; they're now planning to land on the surface with a robot; and after that will come a manned mission. I believe that the next man or woman on the moon will be Chinese.”
The United States continues to watch in semi-disbelief as this Asian nation of a billion-plus souls continues to charge ahead, even in times of economic crisis.
“China is not waiting to revamp its economy,” President Barack Obama warned in his first State of the Union address. “They are putting more emphasis on math and science. They are rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan on Tuesday announced it would continue to request “defensive weapons” from the United States
Speaking at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan's Defence Ministry spokesman Yu Sy-tue not only defended the sale, but also said “there will be many options for future arms sales.”
The package, however, did not include F-16 fighter jets, which Taiwan covets.
The United States is Taiwan’s strongest ally and largest arms supplier, and is bound by bilateral agreements to ensure that the island is able to protect itself from any Chinese threats.