Last week China's top military officer, Gen. Chen Bingde, visited Washington and everything was 'c'mon people now, smile on your brother' -- or as much as it gets with the head of the People's Liberation Army. This week, Congress was back to a tough line, and depending on how it all plays out, relations between the U.S. and China could cool right off once again.
On Thursday, the House voted to bar Chinese companies from ever being eligible for U.S. defense contracts, on the "belief" that a Chinese firm wants to try to build the U.S. presidential helicopter. When Secretary Gates was asked about this earlier this year, he said it was the first he'd heard of it; "I'd be curious for the opinion of the Secret Service about that," he deadpanned. But the mental picture of the president of the United States flying in a Chinese helicopter was so revolting to the military-industrial complex that the House needed to make an unambiguous statement.
Also on Thursday, 45 senators urged President Obama to push forward with a long-discussed sale of 66 F-16s to Taiwan. This would really make the mainland angry. In fact, when Chen was at the Pentagon last week, he was asked specifically about the prospect of the F-16 sale, and his answer sums up the relationship between China and the U.S.:
Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. That is known to all. Since it is part of China, why does -- why will it need the United States weapons sales to guarantee its security?So the Taiwan Relations Act is legislation that interferes with China's domestic affairs. To use -- to apply a domestic law, an issue which is another country's internal affairs, how should I describe this? I think maybe I can use the word "hegemonic."Prediction: All of this year's "progress," such as it is, would be undone.
Decades have passed and the cross-strait situation has gone through fundamental changes. Any effort to try to contain China's development using Taiwan would be futile. Since I arrived in the United States, I've had the opportunity to talk to some members of the Congress, and some of them told me that they also think it is time for the United States to review this legislation.
Your question is quite to the point, that is, whether continuous or future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will impact the state-to-state and mil-to-mil relations between China and the United States. My answer is affirmative; it will. As to how bad the impact will be, it would depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan.