Arms sales to Taiwan are an important tool for the U.S. government to develop substantive relations with Taiwan and intervene in Taiwan Strait security affairs. In general, this policy aims to achieve the following four objectives: in terms of strategic significance, to demonstrate the United States’ willingness and ability to intervene in the Taiwan issue; in terms of military significance, to maintain the dynamic relative balance of power between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait; in terms of political significance, to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to fulfilling the relevant provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act; and in terms of economic significance, to channel excess benefits to the U.S. defense and military-industrial complex. Of course, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are also related to the state of U.S.-China relations during a given period, as the U.S. government uses arms sales to play the “Taiwan card” to exert pressure on China, while adjusting their timing and pace according to the needs of the U.S.-China rivalry.
With regard to U.S. strategy toward China, the Obama administration launched the policy of “rebalance to Asia and the Pacific,” positioning Taiwan as an important “economic and security partner” of the United States. During Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency, Taiwan received more than $20 billion in arms sales and services from the United States. After Donald Trump became president in January 2017, his national security team underwent several adjustments and eventually formed an anti-China policy circle headed by Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, Robert O’Brien, national security adviser, and Mark Esper, secretary of defense. They viewed China as the most important strategic threat to the United States and attempted to launch a “new Cold War” and comprehensive confrontation with China. Along with a downward spiral of U.S.-China relations, the Trump administration’s Taiwan-related policies gradually moved beyond the traditional constraints set by U.S.-China relations. The gap between the United States’ so-called one China policy and the “one China” principle to which China adhered increasingly widened, and there were significant changes in U.S. thinking and strategy on arms sales to Taiwan. Not only are these changes reflected in the normalization of arms sales and the offensive capabilities of the weapons sold, but they also dovetail with the United States’ Indo-Pacific security strategy, the Western Pacific island chain strategy, and the defense strategy of the Taiwan authorities. The content and forms of U.S.-Taiwan military security cooperation continued to change after Democrat Joseph Biden became president in January 2021. Geostrategically treating China as a systemic rival of the United States, he reconsidered and gradually formulated the so-called new deterrence strategy toward China. Judging from the Taiwan-related policy statements, actions, and strategic maneuvers in the first year of the Biden administration, U.S. policy on arms sales to Taiwan will most likely continue in the same general direction as that of the Trump era. This will have deep and complex implications for the strategic competition between China and the United States and the security situation in the Taiwan Strait.
I. Manifestations and Characteristics of the Adjustments in U.S. Policy on Arms Sales to Taiwan
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 1979, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have always been a particularly knotty issue in U.S.-China relations. The types, value, and political implications of the weapons all reflect the continued deep involvement of the United States in the Taiwan issue. In fact, the U.S. government’s China policy has long determined its policy on arms sales to Taiwan, which in turn serves as a barometer of U.S. policy toward China. The August 17 Communiqué on which the United States and China agreed has not really resolved the issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan—or, rather, the United States has not abided by the spirit of the communiqué. With China’s national strength growing and pace of military modernization accelerating, the amount of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan has grown continuously and the weaponry involved has become increasingly more advanced.1 The debate in U.S. domestic politics on arms sales to Taiwan has never ceased, and the party in opposition often uses the issue as a tool of party politics against the party in power.2 This situation took on new dimensions during the Trump administration as U.S. strategy toward China underwent a fundamental shift and as strategic competition increasingly characterized U.S.-China relations. In the past five years, the most significant changes in U.S. arms sales policy toward Taiwan were as follows.
(i) A Shift from “Packaged” Arms Sales to Regular Arms Sales
The United States is the world’s largest arms exporter, and Taiwan is an important market for its weapons. The Obama administration adopted a package-deal approach arms sales to Taiwan, selling a total of $14.07 billion in military equipment in three batches, including Patriot PAC-3 missile systems, Black Hawk helicopters, retrofit of F-16A/B fighter jets, and Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates. Although the Obama administration sold a considerable amount of military equipment to Taiwan, its arms sales policy was nonetheless widely criticized by the Republican Party for the lengthy review process and the relatively limited supply of offensive weapons. After Trump, representing the Republican Party, took office in January 2017, he used arms exports as an important means to stimulate the economy, boost employment, and win over military-industrial complex interest groups. In 2018, based on the new National Security Strategy published the year before, the Trump administration introduced a revised policy and implementation plan for conventional arms transfer (CAT), which eased restrictions on U.S. export of conventional arms and simplified the arms transfer process for U.S. allies and partners. Trump even encouraged U.S. diplomats to promote arms sales, and the annual arms exports during his administration averaged significantly higher than those during the Obama presidency.
美国是全球最大军火出口国，台湾是其武器重要出口市场。在对台军售问题上，奥巴马时期采取一揽子打包方式，共三批次出售140.7亿美元的军事装备，包括“爱国者-3”型导弹系统、黑鹰直升机、F-16A/B战斗机的升级改造、佩里级导弹护卫舰等。虽然奥巴马政府对台出售军事装备的数量不小，但由于军售审查时程偏长、相对限制进攻性武器转让，其对台售武政策遭到共和党广泛批评。2017年1月代表共和党的特朗普上台，将武器出口作为提振经济、增加就业及拉拢军工复合体利益集团的重要手段，根据国家安全战略于2018年调整出台新的常规武器转移政策(Conventional Arms Transfer，CAT)及实施计划，放宽美国常规武器出口限制，简化对美国盟友伙伴的军售转移流程。特朗普甚至鼓励美国外交官承担军备推销工作，其执政后武器年均出口额明显高于奥巴马总统任内。
According to statistics published in March 2021 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden, the U.S. share of global arms exports increased to 37 percent in the 2016–2020 period, and the export value rose by 15 percent compared to 2011–2015. In fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017–September 30, 2018), the United States’ authorized arms exports totaled approximately $192.3 billion, a 13 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. In FY 2020, the United States exported $175 billion worth of military equipment, up 2.8 percent from $170.1 billion in FY 2019.3
There are two main methods for U.S. arms exports: the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) program, in which U.S. companies and foreign buyers directly negotiate the sales, and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, in which buyers negotiate their purchases with the U.S. government. In FY 2020, U.S. arms exports via DCS totaled $124.3 billion, a year-on-year increase of 8.4 percent, while the total value of FMS cases decreased by 8.3 percent from the previous year to about $50.78 billion.4 This suggested a further increase in the Trump administration’s authorization of direct commercial sales between U.S. defense industry and foreign governments. Simultaneously, in order to facilitate arms sales to Taiwan, the Trump administration moved away from the previous package-deal approach and normalized the process, reviewing a purchase request as soon as it was made and announcing the results individually. Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities, led by Tsai Ing-wen, also adjusted its procedure for procuring arms from the United States accordingly. Previously, a “Letter of Request for Price and Availability” would first be submitted to the United States to begin the formal process, and upon U.S. approval, a “Letter of Request for a Letter of Offer and Acceptance” (LOR for LOA) would then be sent. To reduce the time frame and streamline the process, the first step has been removed and the LOR for LOA can be sent directly. Trump presided over the largest number of arms sales to Taiwan among U.S. presidents since the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, having announced 11 sales amounting to over $18 billion. Following these adjustments, normalized arms sales provide a relatively predictable timeline for Taiwan’s military buildup and budgeting.
美国武器出口主要有两种方式：美国军工企业与买方直接商谈交易(Direct Commercial Sales，DCS)，或买方与美政府商谈军购事宜(Foreign Military Sales，FMS)。2020财年，以第一种方式实现的美国军事装备出口额约为1243亿美元，同比增长8.4%；以第二种方式实现的美国军事装备出口额约为507.8亿美元，同比减少8.3%。这显示，特朗普政府授权美国军工企业以直接商售方式，与外国政府进行武器出口谈判的规模进一步扩大。与这一过程相伴随的是，特朗普政府为促进对台出售武器，改变传统捆绑打包的方式，实施随提随审、逐案公布的常态化军售。同时，蔡英文当局根据美国常态化军售也调整台湾对美军购程序，由过去先提出“要价书”(LOR for P&A)要求美方正式报价，待完成建案程序后再向美方提交“发价申请书”(LOR for LOA)，改为直接递送“发价申请书”，以缩减双方军售作业时间，提高对美购买武器的效率。特朗普成为中美建交以来对台出售武器批次最多的一任美国总统，共宣布11次对台军售案，金额逾180亿美元。经过上述调整，常态化军售为台湾当局军事力量布建和预算安排提供了相对可测的时间线。
(ii) Relaxation of Restrictions on the Sale of Offensive Weapons as Appropriate
Due to the limitations of its military technology and defense industry and its dependence on foreign arms, Taiwan has long purchased armaments from the United States to maintain its defense capabilities. During the negotiations for the August 17 Communiqué, the United States required that reduction of its arms sales to Taiwan be conditioned on China’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, but the final text of the communiqué did not contain such a statement. 5 In the text, the U.S. government states that “its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed … the level of those supplied in recent years” and that “it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading … to a final resolution,” but it has never acted on those statements.6 Against the backdrop of mainland China’s rising military power, tensions in cross-Strait relations that flared up after the DPP returned to power in 2016 prompted the United States to reassess the significance of arms sales for addressing the imbalance of military strength between Taiwan and China, which led to the sale of more offensive weapons to the Taiwan authorities to bolster Taiwan’s so-called deterrence against China. Some U.S. scholars justified this move with the following arguments. First, the U.S. willingness to reduce arms sales to Taiwan as stated in the August 17 Communiqué was predicated on China’s peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, but in recent years mainland China had been gradually moving away from such a goal. Second, the serious power imbalance—especially the disparity in military power—between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait made it increasingly difficult for Taiwan to maintain its “de facto independence.” Lastly, the distinction between defensive and offensive weapons had blurred with the development of modern military technology.
The gradual relaxation of the transfer of offensive weapons has become a new characteristic of U.S. policy on arms sales to Taiwan. In the eleven arms sales to Taiwan during Trump’s presidency, weapons that exceeded the Taiwan Relations Act’s stipulation of “arms of a defensive character” included: 66 F-16V fighter jets ($8 billion), 135 AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response) with a range of 250-300 km, HIMARS multiple rocket launchers with a range of more than 250 km (which Taiwan calls “long-range precision strike system”), and 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems ($2.37 billion).7 On November 3, 2020, the United States sold four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones along with related equipment to Taiwan in a $600 million deal. It was the first sale of a large drone to a foreign country since the Trump administration eased export restrictions on drone technology. After taking office in May 2016, Tsai Ing-wen emphasized “defense autonomy and industrial development,” making the defense industry one of six core strategic industries. Some “red zone” equipment, however, was unable to be developed or manufactured in Taiwan, such as the sonar systems and combat systems for its submarine program. In April 2018, the U.S. Department of State approved a marketing license that would allow U.S. defense companies to sell Taiwan the sensitive technology necessary for building its own submarines. During the Trump era, Taiwan’s air force sought to acquire from the United States the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, which would be mounted on its F-16 fighters and enable them—it was claimed—to strike high-value military targets like command and control centers and air defense systems on the mainland. Such missiles are clearly offensive in nature.
(iii) A Focus on Alignment with the “Overall Defense Concept” of the Taiwan Authorities
U.S. policy on arms sales to Taiwan has generally taken into consideration such factors as the balance of military power between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the capabilities and state of Taiwan’s defense, and the military strategy and defense policies of the Taiwan authorities. The Trump era saw important changes in the assessment of those factors. Elbridge Colby, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense under Trump and assisted the then secretary of defense James Mattis in developing the 2018 National Defense Strategy, argues that “a conflict over Taiwan is the key scenario” among the Pentagon’s scenarios for a conflict with China.8 The Pentagon’s 2020 China Military Power Report, which analyzes China’s military strategy, weapon development, military disposition, and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, notes that mainland China has “directly equated the ‘1992 Consensus’ to ‘one China’” and that it “continues to prepare for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait to deter, and if necessary, compel Taiwan to abandon moves toward independence.” The report, furthermore, considers it likely that China is “preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying, or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.” With a defense budget 15 times that of Taiwan, it observes, China has a range of options when it comes to military action against Taiwan, from an air and maritime blockade to a large-scale amphibious assault to capture part or all of Taiwan or its offshore islands.9 According to U.S. scholar Richard Bush, Taiwan’s defense strategy long “envisioned an air and sea battle against the PLA [People’s Liberation Army]” in the Taiwan Strait, which entailed surface vessels, fighter jets, and tanks engaging in a symmetrical campaign. This idea was once feasible “because Taiwan’s equipment was technologically more advanced than that of the PLA and also because an island possesses natural defensive barriers.” PLA modernization, however, has closed or eliminated that technology gap and “is creating a new gap in its own favor.” A war of attrition, therefore, is no longer a good idea for Taiwan.10
美国对台军售政策，一般会考虑两岸军事力量对比状况、台湾岛屿防御能力与态势、台湾当局军事战略与防务政策等因素。这些研判在特朗普执政时期发生重要变化。在特朗普时期担任副助理国防部长、协助时任国防部长马蒂斯制定2018年《国防战略报告》的柯尔比(Elbridge Colby)认为，在美国国防部关于中美冲突的战略推演当中，台海战争是一项最核心的想定。美国国防部2020年度《中国军力报告书》，对中国军事战略、武器发展、军事部署、台海局势等进行分析，认为中国大陆已经直接将“九二共识”等同于一个中国，持续准备应对台海紧急事态，吓阻、强迫台湾放弃“台独”行动；中国大陆也可能正在准备以武力统一台湾，与此同时吓阻、迟滞或否决任何第三方介入；中国防务预算是台湾的15倍，对台军事行动有一系列选择，包括海空封锁，或大规模两栖进攻，夺取、占领部分或全部台湾区域，或台湾近岸岛屿。美国学者卜睿哲(Richard Bush)认为，长期以来，台湾的防务策略所想象的都是在台湾海峡与解放军进行空中与海上作战，所以势必会在对称作战中消耗水面舰艇、战斗机、坦克。这种想法以前很合理，因为台湾当局军备的科技程度以前优于解放军，而且岛屿是天然屏障。但解放军现代化之后，已经拉近甚至完全消除与台湾的科技差距，并且创造了对其有利的条件，如今台湾打消耗战已经不再是好点子。
Based on the above analyses, and with U.S. guidance, the Taiwan authorities have formulated a “multiple deterrence [重层威慑] strategy” and an “overall defense concept” (ODC), which place more emphasis on enhancing asymmetric warfare capabilities against mainland China while maintaining conventional warfare capabilities. In 2019, in accordance with the military strategy of “resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence [防卫固守、重层吓阻],” the Taiwan authorities set forth in their national defense report an ODC of “force protection, decisive battle in littoral zone, and destruction of enemy at landing beach,” which aims to “deal a deadly blow to the enemies and ultimately frustrate enemies’ invasive mission” by taking advantage of the natural barrier of the Taiwan Strait and other geographic advantages and applying “innovative/asymmetric operational thinking.” On May 20, 2020, Tsai Ing-wen said in her re-election inauguration speech that apart from strengthening defense capabilities, “future combat capacity development will also emphasize mobility, countermeasures, and non-traditional asymmetrical capabilities.” The latest version of Taiwan’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published in 2021, likewise emphasizes accelerated development of asymmetric capabilities, especially “building up defensive capabilities to create advantageous conditions, based on the strategy of ‘resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence’ and innovative/asymmetric operational thinking, which involves enhancing the capability of long-range precision strike and acquiring advanced counterair, sea control, and ground defense weapons.”11
基于上述判断，在美国指导之下，台湾当局提出“重层威慑战略”(multiple deterrence strategy)和“整体防卫构想”(Overall Defense Concept，ODC)，在维持和发展常规战力的同时，更加重视加强对抗中国大陆的不对称性战力。2019年，台湾当局在“防务报告书”中提出依“防卫固守、重层吓阻”军事战略指导，发展“战力防护、滨海决胜、滩岸歼敌”的“整体防卫构想”，运用“台海天堑及地缘优势”，发挥“创新、不对称”的作战思维，达成“破敌夺台任务失败”的作战目标。2020年5月20日，蔡英文在连任就职讲话中表示，在强化防卫固守能力的同时，战力发展将着重机动、反制、非传统的不对称战力。2021年，台湾当局公布“四年期防务总检讨”，强调“以不对称思维加速提升战力”，“依‘防卫固守、重层吓阻’军事战略，以创新、不对称作战思维，强化远程精准打击能力，结合制空、制海、地面防卫等新式武器筹获及性能大幅提升，构建可靠之重层吓阻战力，创造防卫有利态势”。
According to an article by Taiwan’s former chief of the general staff Lee Hsi-Ming, who first devised the ODC, the three key elements of the concept are the preservation of combat strength, conventional capabilities, and asymmetrical capabilities: “Taiwan must abandon the traditional idea of fighting a war of attrition with the PLA and adopt an effective asymmetric defense posture combined with asymmetric capabilities to prevent the PLA from landing on Taiwan.”12 The Taiwan authorities characterize asymmetric weapon systems as small, mobile, accurate, lethal, numerous, dispersed, inexpensive, and easy to use, along with a high degree of operational flexibility and battlefield survivability. Examples include sea mines and miniature missile assault boats. As Lee Hsi-ming and Eric Lee put it, with limited military resources, “the essence of Taiwan’s asymmetric capabilities is a large number of small things.”13 For example, in a notice issued on October 27, 2020 announcing the sale of 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems to Taiwan, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency pointed out that “the recipient will be able to employ a highly reliable and effective system to counter or deter maritime aggressions, coastal blockades, and amphibious assaults.”14 Supplying asymmetric combat weapon systems needed for the “resolute defense and multi-domain deterrence” strategy looks set to become an important trend in U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
II. Background and Motivations of the Adjustments in U.S. Arms Sales Policy toward Taiwan
The above changes in U.S. arms sales policy toward Taiwan are manifestations in the realm of armaments of adjustments in the U.S. government’s Taiwan-related military security policy since the formal establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relations. In the context of escalating strategic competition between China and the United States, the motives behind those changes can be analyzed from geostrategic, political, and economic perspectives.
(i) Strategic Aspect
An essential tool of U.S. foreign and security policy, arms sales are often used by the United States to (a) demonstrate a strategic interest in the situations in the regions to which the sales are made, (b) strengthen military security relations with the recipient parties, (c) enhance the ability of allies and partners to work with the United States in addressing security threats, and (d) show political commitment and support to the recipients’ governing authorities. The U.S. political and military circles believe that, since mainland China began a comprehensive modernization of its military, its power projection and joint warfare capabilities have grown substantially, with significant increase in the frequency and scale of its activities both inside and outside the first island chain. This has led to a shift in the balance of hard power in the Indo-Pacific region, an increasingly serious imbalance of military strength between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and even a constraint on the U.S. military’s strategic projection and operational capabilities in the western Pacific region. The Trump administration made Taiwan an integral part of its Indo-Pacific strategy and policy. Its Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, published in June 2019, put out by the Trump administration includes Taiwan within the Indo-Pacific region strategy and policy. The report characterizes China as a “revisionist power” intent on changing the status quo: “As China continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately global preeminence in the long-term.” Emphasizing the significance of U.S. defense engagements with Taiwan, the report notes that “the PLA continues to prepare for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait to deter, and if necessary, compel Taiwan to abandon moves toward independence. The PLA is also preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying, or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.”15 According to a recent study by the United States’ Congressional Research Service, following two decades of rapid modernization, China’s military forces now possess anti-access/area denial capabilities, and the Chinese navy’s priority is to prepare for a potential conflict with U.S. forces in the Taiwan Strait.16 U.S. scholars have suggested that mainland China’s military action against Taiwan may involve four main campaigns—joint missile and air strikes, a blockade of the island, counterintervention measures against U.S. forces, and island landing operations—the first three of which are generally believed to be well within China’s capabilities.17 Therefore, the strategic cost to the United States of military involvement in a conflict over Taiwan has considerably risen. In recent years, U.S. strategists have highlighted a growing risk that China may adopt a “fait accompli” strategy against Taiwan—that is, invading and seizing control of Taiwan before U.S. forces can respond effectively, resulting in a fait accompli of cross-Strait reunification that would be difficult to reverse.18
A congressional report notes that historically, mainland China tended to increase military activities around Taiwan and display its military might around important events in Taiwan’s electoral cycle and other political events related to “Taiwan independence”, such as referendums on constitutional amendments and United Nations membership application. After Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, China’s military aircraft began to conduct circumnavigation flights around the island, cross the Taiwan Strait median line, and frequently enter the air defense identification zone created by the Taiwan authorities. Such activities have overturned established norms and created “new facts on the ground,” increasing the likelihood of an incident or even a crisis in the Strait.19 The report, moreover, argues that China’s operations near Taiwan in 2020 may suggest experimentation with new strategies. Traditionally, Taiwan’s defense planners and U.S. analysts have assumed that China would launch attacks from the island’s west, but the PLA’s circumnavigation flights and naval transits through the Gonggu [Miyako] Strait indicate that it could also attack from the north or east.20 According to a study by the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a think tank affiliated with Taiwan’s defense ministry, China’s strategy for attacking Taiwan clearly emphasizes a rapid, decisive victory before U.S. forces arrive.
In 2020, the Chinese government for the first time publicly denied the existence of the so-called “Taiwan Strait median line,” and China’s military aircraft operated regularly and with increasing frequency in the airspace southwest of the island, which caused growing concern in Washington and Taipei about the situation in the Taiwan Strait. The Trump administration saw China as its main strategic competitor, and Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien maintained a “new Cold War” mentality toward China. On military security matters, they saw U.S.-China competition as a zero-sum game and advocated the containment of China, treating Taiwan’s security as an integral part of U.S. strategic security in the Indo-Pacific region. This was evidenced by the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, which was formulated in 2018 and declassified in part before Trump left office. The document calls for “devis[ing] and implement[ing] a defense strategy capable of, but not limited to: (1) denying China sustained air and sea dominance inside the ‘first island chain’ in a conflict; (2) defending the first-island-chain nations, including Taiwan; and (3) dominating all domains outside the first island chain.” In addition, it specifies an objective to “enable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities.”21 Accordingly, the Trump administration included Taiwan as an important component of the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy and openly made security relations a core element of U.S.-Taiwan relations, using arms sales as a means of demonstrating the United States’ commitment to Taiwan’s security, to enhancing Taiwan’s defense capabilities, and to strengthening deterrence against mainland China.
On August 30, 2019, the then national security adviser John Bolton declassified a memorandum sent in 1982 by former President Reagan to his secretary of state George Schultz and secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger, after he had signed the August 17 Communiqué. In that internal memo, Reagan states that “the U.S. willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the Taiwan-PRC differences … [T]he linkage between these two matters is a permanent imperative of U.S. foreign policy,” and that “it is essential that the quantity and quality of the arms provided Taiwan be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC.”22 On July 16, 2020, Bolton’s successor O’Brien declassified a State Department cable to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), drafted on July 10, 1982, which notes that “any significant change in PRC actions in the direction of a more hostile stance toward Taiwan will invalidate any understanding we may reach with Beijing regarding our future arms sales to Taiwan.”23 Clearly, the Trump administration linked the issue of arms sales to Taiwan directly to China’s approach to resolving the Taiwan issue. The United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China issued by the White House in May 2020 quoted Reagan’s insistence that “the quantity and quality of the arms provided Taiwan be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC.”24 By expanding the scale and content of arms sales to Taiwan, the Trump administration focused on supporting the Tsai Ing-wen administration’s multiple deterrence strategy and overall defense concept, in order to partially offset or asymmetrically counter China’s ability to conduct military operations against Taiwan, which would buy more time for a U.S. military intervention in case of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait.
(ii) Legal Aspect
The U.S. Congress’s use of legislative means to influence arms sales to Taiwan reached a peak during the Trump era, which saw the legal structure underpinning the United States’ Taiwan policy evolve from the traditional three U.S.-China joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act to three Communiqués, five acts, and the “Six Assurances” to Taiwan. The five acts are the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), the Taiwan Travel Act (2018), the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (2018), the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act (2020), and the Taiwan Assurance Act (2020). These laws focus on lifting restrictions on official U.S.-Taiwan exchanges, upgrading the U.S.-Taiwan military security relationship, and supporting Taiwan’s effort to expand international engagement. The implementation of regular, institutionalized, and tailored arms sales to Taiwan was an important legislative goal. The Taiwan Relations Act, for example, provides that the United States “shall make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act stipulates that the president “should conduct regular transfers of defense articles to Taiwan that are tailored to meet the existing and likely future threats from the People’s Republic of China, including supporting the efforts of Taiwan to develop and integrate asymmetric capabilities, as appropriate, including mobile, survivable, and cost-effective capabilities, into its military forces.”25 Further refining the provisions, the Taiwan Assurance Act reiterates the U.S. government’s support of “Taiwan’s continued pursuit of asymmetric capabilities and concepts” and reaffirms regular arms sales and transfers to Taiwan to enhance its self-defense capabilities, “particularly its efforts to develop and integrate asymmetric capabilities, including undersea warfare and air defense capabilities.” It urges Taiwan to “increase its defense spending in order to fully resource its defense strategy.”26 Since the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law in the last days of the Obama administration, numerous Taiwan-related clauses have been included in the succeeding NDAAs. The “Six Assurances,” which indicate that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will continue for an indefinite period of time, was for the first time written into law in the 2018 NDAA, and there has been emphasis—expressed in “sense of Congress” provisions—on supporting Taiwan’s development of asymmetric capabilities through arms transfers. The 2020 NDAA required that the Pentagon provide a report on the regular transfer of U.S. defense articles that were mobile, survivable, and cost-effective to most effectively support Taiwan’s asymmetric defense strategy.27 Such legislation lay the legal and political foundation for the Trump administration’s expansion of arms sales to Taiwan, and even after Trump left office, similar bills have continued to be introduced. The Republican senator James Risch (R-NY), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the introduction of a draft “Taiwan Deterrence Act,” which would authorize the U.S. State Department to provide $2 billion a year in Foreign Military Financing for Taiwan during fiscal years 2023–2032 for the procurement of U.S.-made defense equipment.28
美国国会以立法手段影响对台军售在特朗普时期达到高峰。从法律规范层面看，特朗普任内美国台海政策架构从传统的中美三个联合公报、“与台湾关系法”，演变成“三公报”、“五法”和对台“六项保证”。“五法”是“与台湾关系法”(1979年)、“与台湾交往法”(2018年)、“亚洲再保证倡议法”(2018年)、“台湾‘邦交国’国际保护与强化倡议法案”(简称“台北法案”，2020年)、“台湾保证法”(2020年)。这些涉台立法以解除美台官方往来限制、升级美台军事安全关系、支持台湾地区扩大国际参与为重点，其中落实对台军售常态化、制度化、精准化是重要立法目标。如“与台湾关系法”规定“美国将向台湾提供使其能保持足够自卫能力所需数量的防御物资和防御服务”。“亚洲再保证倡议法”规定，美国总统应常态性提供符合台湾需求之防御物资，以因应来自中华人民共和国既有及未来可能的威胁，包括支持台湾发展与整合具有机动性、耐存活性，且具成本效益的不对称战力。“台湾保证法”进一步细化规定，包括美国政府支持台湾持续获得不对称战力和概念，敦促台湾增加防务支出以为防务战略提供充分资源，美国应常态化对台出售和转移防务装备，增强台湾的防御能力，特别是发展和整合不对称战力，包括海下战力(undersea warfare)、空防能力(air defense capabilities)。从奥巴马执政末期签署的2017年《国防授权法》算起，2018-2021年度《国防授权法》均纳入众多涉台军事条款，包括首次将美国承诺对台售武长期化的“六项保证”入法，不断以跨党派共识的方式强调对台发展不对称战力给予军售支持。如2020年《国防授权法》规定美国国防部报告向台湾常态化转移用于支持不对称防卫战略和机动、能存活、性价比高的军事装备情况。这些法案为特朗普政府扩大对台售武提供了法律和政治上的支撑。这类立法在特朗普下台后仍不断推出，美国联邦参议院外委会共和党首席议员里施(James Risch)领衔提出“台湾吓阻法”草案，授权美国国务院在2023-2032财政年度期间，每年向台湾提供20亿美元的“外国军事融资”(Foreign Military Financing，FMF)，用以采购美制武器与防务装备。
(iii) Technological Aspect
For over a decade, the United States has gradually relaxed its rules for arms sales and streamlined the review process for arms exports. In 2009, the Obama administration initiated a review of the United States’ export control system, and to improve efficiency, some less sensitive military items were eventually moved from the State Department’s export control list to one managed by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. Released in 2018, the Trump administration’s revised Conventional Arms Transfer policy aimed at further easing export restrictions. It requires that proposed arms transfers take account of such criteria as the national security of the United States, the economic security of the United States and innovation, relationships with allies and partners, human rights and international humanitarian law, and nonproliferation. Specifically, arms sales must be consistent with “United States interests in regional stability,” especially when such transfers involve power projection or anti-access or area denial capability. A proposed transfer, moreover, needs to consider its effect on the United States’ technological edge, including “the recipient’s ability to protect sensitive technology, the risk of compromise to U.S. systems and operational capabilities, and the recipient’s ability to prevent the diversion of sensitive technology to unauthorized end users.”29 The U.S. government repeatedly urged the Tsai Ing-wen administration to step up the protection of the advanced military equipment and technology transferred to Taiwan. To this end, the Tsai government amended laws to tighten control over sensitive military technologies, impose limits on travel to mainland China for personnel working on core technologies, and raise the penalties for visiting the mainland in violation of the regulations. These measures have, to some extent, allayed U.S. concern about technology proliferation and leaks. In a July 2020 statement, the Trump administration called the standards of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) “outdated,” saying that they “give an unfair advantage to countries outside of the MTCR and hurt United States industry.” Trump thus decided to invoke “national discretion” to override the MTCR’s restrictions on exporting unmanned aerial systems, which directly removed the obstacle to selling MQ-9B drones to Taiwan.30
十年多来，美国逐步放宽对外军售条件，简化武器出口审批作业程序。2009年，奥巴马政府检讨美国出口管制系统，将国务院管控出口的一些武器装备划归商务部工业和安全局管理，以提高出口审查效率。2018年，特朗普政府制定的常规武器转移政策旨在进一步放宽出口限制，提出武器转移需要考虑的原则包括美国国家安全、美国经济安全与创新、盟友伙伴关系、人权与国际人权法律、不扩散，明确军售要与美国维持地区稳定的利益相一致，特别要考虑武器转移涉及的权力投射、反介入和区域拒止能力。该政策规定，常规武器转移要考虑对美国军事技术优势的影响，包括接收方保护敏感技术的能力，危及美国系统和作战能力的风险，以及接收方防止敏感技术转移至未经授权的最终用户。美国政府一直敦促蔡英文当局加强管控美国对台转移的先进军事装备与技术。为此，蔡英文当局采取修法措施管制军事敏感技术，加强岛内科技人员赴大陆的审查，提高违反规定登陆的罚责成本等，在一定程度上减轻了美国对技术扩散和外溢的担忧。2020年7月，特朗普政府发表声明称导弹技术控制协议(Missile Technology Control Regime)的规则标准过时，给未参加该机制的国家带来“不公平的优势”并“损害美国工业”，决定美国可自由裁定对外出售无人机系统(Unmanned Aerial Systems)。这直接扫除了美国向台湾地区出售MQ-9B“海上卫士”的障碍。
(iv) Economic Aspect
Supporting the defense industry and boosting employment are important considerations for U.S. arms sales. A presidential memorandum issued in 2018 on conventional arms transfer (CAT) policy noted that the defense industrial base employed more than 1.7 million people. The memorandum aimed to outline an approach to arms sales that would bolster the U.S. economy, enhance the ability of the defense industrial base to create jobs, and help the United States maintain a technological edge over potential adversaries.31 According to a SIPRI report published in March 2021 on trends in international arms transfers in the preceding year, the United States remained the world’s largest arms exporter by far, delivering arms to 96 states and territories in 2016–2020 and increasing its global share from 32 percent in 2011–2015 to 37 percent. SIPRI data released in December 2020 showed that the top five companies in global arms sales in 2019—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics—were all based in the United States, together registering $166 billion in sales. 12 U.S. arms companies ranked in the top 25 and accounted for 61 percent of the total arms sales of the top 25.32
The Trump administration underlined the economic benefits of arms sales, and Taiwan has been a key client of U.S. military equipment and services. Brent Christensen, the then director of the AIT, told a forum in November 2020 that Taiwan was acknowledged as the biggest buyer of U.S. weapons. As the international community widely observe the “one China” principle, virtually no other country than the United States still openly sells arms to Taiwan, which has made the country Taiwan’s most important source of foreign arms. Taiwan’s 2019 defense budget was $11.163 billion, a 3.9 percent increase over 2018. In a December 2020 speech at the Hudson Institute, a conservative U.S. think tank, Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan’s regular defense spending would reach $14.9 billion in 2021, accounting for more than 2.2 percent of its GDP, and that it would invest in “the right equipment and training.”33 In addition to the regular budget for arms procurement, the Taiwan authorities have further hiked their defense procurement spending with a special budget for the purchase of F-16V fighters and other large-scale weapons acquisitions from the United States, to be allocated over several years. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics—the main contractors for the weapons sold to Taiwan—have long profited from the lucrative deals.
III. Implications of the Policy Adjustments
Since Trump became president, Taiwan Strait security issues have become increasingly prominent in U.S.-China security competition, and adjustments to the defense strategies and military policies of the U.S. government and Taiwan authorities have become an important factor when it comes to tracking and studying the security situation in the Taiwan Strait.
(i) Taiwan’s “Overall Defense” and the United States’ Response to a Fait Accompli
Since the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, the transfer of defense articles and services has been central to their military relations, and it has always been seen as a barometer of U.S.-Taiwan relations. After the third Taiwan Strait crisis erupted in 1995, the United States grew concerned about a contingency in the Taiwan Strait and established the “Monterey Talks”—an annual strategic security dialogue with Taiwan—two years later.34 Although George W. Bush, who became U.S. president in 2001, opposed the then Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian’s goal of “de jure independence” and took care to avoid conflict with China in the Taiwan Strait, military cooperation with Taiwan continued to develop, with the resumption of visits by U.S. military personnel to observe the Han Kuang military exercises. After taking office in 2008, Obama initiated a strategic “rebalance to Asia and the Pacific” to counteract China’s influence, encouraging Taiwan to enhance its defense capabilities with “asymmetric” and “innovative” thinking.35 In 2018, the Trump administration released a new national defense strategy, which highlighted maintaining the capabilities to respond to the rise of China’s military power and a contingency in the Taiwan Strait. The Tsai Ing-wen administration held close talks with the United States on how to enhance Taiwan’s defense capabilities and jointly maintain deterrence against mainland China.
During the Trump years, there was much discussion among U.S. strategists about “arming Taiwan” to hamper China’s reunification process. The goal of arming Taiwan is to “equip Taiwan with the capability to deter the PLA from initiating reunification by force, and—failing that—to hold out until the United States intervenes, so as to defeat China’s fait accompli strategy.” To achieve that goal, Taiwan needs to adopt a “hedgehog” or “porcupine” strategy, which is reflected in Taiwan’s overall defense concept. 36 Alexander Huang, former deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, believes that the ODC was actually developed jointly by Taiwan and the United States, and gradually took shape through collective discussions among staff officers of Taiwan’s defense ministry.37 Elaborating on the U.S. view of the ODC at the 2018 U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference, the then deputy assistant secretary of defense David F. Helvey said that “the ODC concept focus on asymmetric warfare, force preservation, and littoral battle leverages Taiwan’s geographic advantages, while exploiting the key challenges an amphibious invading force is likely to face.” Moreover, he noted, “the concept’s prioritization of survivable, mobile, and more numerous precision-guided weapons and advanced surveillance assets is a highly effective approach to countering the PLA’s quantitative advantages and operational strengths.”38 Speaking at the opening of the following year’s conference, Chang Guan-chung, who was vice minister of national defense, systematically explained how asymmetric capabilities support the ODC strategy of “decisive battle in littoral zone and destruction of the enemy at landing beach”: “The ground systems include mobile anti-armor weapons, mobile air defense missiles, mobile precision-guided MLRS [multiple launch rocket system] and artilleries. The naval systems, in addition to submarines, include coastal mobile anti-ship missiles [and] sea mines. … The buildup of air systems is focused on long-range multi-function and long-duration UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and air-launched stand-off precision weapons.”39 Taiwan’s 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review details in the “Developing Asymmetric Capabilities” section how it envisions asymmetric warfare: “Asymmetric warfare is about ‘evading enemy’s strengths and exploiting their weaknesses.’ [Taiwan’s armed forces] continue to develop asymmetric capabilities to strike the operational centers and key nodes of the enemy. The geographic advantages of the Taiwan Strait shall be tapped to shape favorable conditions for us to disrupt the operational tempo of the enemy, frustrate its attempts and moves of invasion at decisive points to ‘strike a dispersed enemy with a united blow,’ and achieve the final victory to defeat the enemy.” On strengthening asymmetric capabilities, the document explains: “Asymmetric capabilities that are small, numerous, smart, stealthy, mobile, and hard to detect and counter shall be built up. To improve multi-domain strike capabilities, coastal mobile anti-ship missiles, light and rapid maritime force, and advanced naval mines are to be integrated as a multi-layered maritime strike power. In addition, highly maneuverable and rapidly spreadable field air defense and anti-armor capabilities are to be strengthened. Moreover, new offensive and defensive technologies of EW [electronic warfare] and cyberwarfare, as well as multi-functional unmanned systems for surveillance and strike continue to be acquired.”40
Taiwan’s ODC and the U.S. strategy to defeat a fait accompli are aligned with and complementary to each other, and the ODC fits in with the U.S. need to “arm Taiwan.” It is an integral element of the United States’ efforts to bolster its military deterrence against China. According to Richard C. Bush, the ODC serves two purposes: first, to raise the difficulty of a PLA attack or blockade to such an extent that China considers the risks unacceptable; and second, to buy time for the United States to intervene militarily, assuming a U.S. willingness to do so.41 A RAND Corporation report argues that the most effective way to deter Chinese military action against Taiwan is for the island to focus on upgrading its own anti-access and area denial (A2AD) capabilities; for example, modernizing—and expanding the stock of—Taiwan’s cruise missiles could make the cost of an amphibious invasion attempt by China intolerably high.42 Helvey, who was involved in developing U.S. military security policy related to Taiwan, believes that Taiwan is capable of further developing and fielding asymmetric capabilities, in such forms as land- and sea-based cruise missiles, short-range air defenses, MLRS, small fast attack boats, unmanned aerial vehicles, coastal defense artillery, and naval mines.43 He has also commented that, as the scale and scope of U.S.-Taiwan defense engagement continue to grow, the United States is focusing on “working with Taiwan to build credible war fighting systems to achieve multi-domain deterrence.” 44 During Trump’s presidency, U.S. military strategy and disposition were adjusted in response to the great power rivalry with China, with emphasis on the building of effective multi-domain deterrence and the mobility, survivability, and lethality of U.S. military equipment. The policy of arming Taiwan meant that adjustments to U.S. defense strategy naturally affected Taiwan’s military policy and equipment deployment, and Taiwan has significantly boosted its annual defense spending.45 In March 2021, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported, “The major military acquisitions in recent years all involved weapons and equipment that can quickly enhance combat capabilities but that Taiwan cannot develop or produce on its own in the short term.”46 During an inspection of the Taiwan navy’s Haifeng Brigade in September 2021, Tsai Ing-wen remarked that missile units play a vital role in asymmetric warfare owing to their high mobility and stealth. In the future, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will likely become more regular and institutionalized, and U.S.-Taiwan military cooperation will focus on providing the island with weapons that feature high mobility, cost-effectiveness, long-range precision strike capability, and ease of mass production.
台湾“整体防卫”与美国应对“既成事实”是相互衔接和配合的关系，“整体防卫”符合美国“武装台湾”的需求，是美国增强对中国军事威慑的组成要素。卜睿哲认为，“整体防卫构想”有两个目的：第一是把解放军攻击与封锁的门槛垫高到大陆认为难以承受风险的程度，第二则是拖延时间，让美国在愿意协防台湾时能来得及武力介入。美国兰德公司一份报告认为，吓阻中国大陆对台湾军事行动的最有效方法，是台湾聚焦升级自身的反介入/区域拒止(A2AD)能力，台湾当局巡航导弹的现代化及数量扩充可使中国大陆发动两栖进攻的成本难以承受的高。参与制定美国涉台军事安全政策的海尔韦认为，台湾能够进一步发展和部署不对称能力，如陆基和海基巡航导弹、近程防空系统、多管发射火箭系统、小型快速攻击船只、无人机、沿海防御火炮和海军水雷。他还表示，随着美台防务接触的规模和范围不断扩大，美国将重点放在与台湾合作建立可信的作战系统，以实现多领域威慑(multi-domain deterrence)。特朗普任内针对中美大国竞争调整美国军事战略和部署，即考虑到构建有效的多领域威慑，包括美军事装备以移动性、生存性和杀伤力为优先。在“武装台湾”的政策逻辑下，美国国防战略调整自然会影响到台湾当局军事政策和装备部署，台湾当局明显增加年度防务预算的支出。2021年3月台湾防务部门报告称：“近年推动各项重大军购案，均为台湾短期无法自制或研发期程较长，获得后可快速提升战力之武器装备。” 2021年9月，蔡英文在视察台湾当局海军海锋大队时称，导弹部队机动性强，隐匿性高，在不对称作战上扮演非常重要的角色。从趋势上看，未来美国对台军售朝常态化、机制化方向发展，向台提供机动性强、可大量制造和具有以小博大特质、远距精准打击能力的武器，将是美台军事合作重点。
(ii) The China-U.S. “Game of Deterrence” and Security Dilemma
On the whole, since coming into power again in Taiwan in 2016, the DPP has adopted a U.S.-reliant, pro-Japan, and anti-China stance, refusing to recognize the 1992 Consensus and defying the “one China” principle while pursuing an “incremental Taiwan independence” agenda, which has led to a spiraling deterioration of the security situation in the Taiwan Strait. The United States has played a role in exacerbating tensions and conflict, with an increase in the frequency, scale, and quality of arms sales to Taiwan; regular transit of warships and military aircraft through the Taiwan Strait; reconnaissance off the southeastern coast of mainland China; and naval operations close to the islands and reefs under China’s actual control in the South China Sea as a form of protest. U.S.-Taiwan military activities have become more public, and the U.S. factor is an external impetus for the DPP’s policy of “resisting China and rejecting reunification by means of military force.” In the 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review, long-range strike is listed as a focus of Taiwan’s force buildup and equipment acquisition: “Air-launched missiles with highly extended range and stand-off attack weapon systems are to be developed to inflict precision strikes against the enemy, stretch out the depth of strategic defensive operations, and conduct multi-domain deterrence.”47 The Tsai administration has made missiles capable of “attacking at source” a crucial element of asymmetric capabilities, setting aside a special budget of 200 billion New Taiwan dollars in the 2022 defense budget to acquire missiles and related equipment.
According to neorealist political scientist Robert Jervis, a security dilemma arises when the means by which a state tries to enhance its own security threaten or undermine the security of others.48 Michael Swaine, a U.S. scholar focusing on Asia-Pacific security, argues that the United States will cause and exacerbate a security dilemma with China in the Taiwan Strait if it increases the scale and capabilities of the arms sold to Taiwan in full support of the island’s development of asymmetric capabilities against China, as such action will aggravate China’s concern about a U.S. intent to contain and undermine China.49 With the United States and Taiwan changing the status quo and upsetting the balance in the Taiwan Strait, China has taken a series of measures to uphold the “one China” principle and oppose interference by outside forces, such as rejecting Taiwan’s claim of a median line in the Taiwan Strait and sending aircraft across it, projecting military power past Taiwan and the first island chain toward the western Pacific, conducting regular military training in the air and waters southwest of Taiwan, and conducting island encirclement patrols via the Bashi Channel and the Gonggu [Miyako] Strait. On October 26, 2020, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that, in order to safeguard national interests, China had decided to take necessary measures and impose sanctions on Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Raytheon, and other U.S. companies involved in arms sales to Taiwan, as well as on other relevant U.S. individuals and entities that had played a egregious role in such arms sales.50 In response to the inclusion of a “sense of Congress” provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that called for port of call exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwan navies, a diplomat at the Chinese embassy in Washington said that “if the United States sends a warship to Taiwan, China will activate its Anti-Secession Law,” warning that “the day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force.”51
新现实主义理论家罗伯特·杰维斯(Robert Jervis)认为，一个国家谋求加强自身安全的措施，威胁或损害其他国家的安全，即构成安全困境。也就是说，安全困境是一个国家提升安全而造成另一个国家安全被削弱的现象。美国亚太安全学者史文(Michael Swaine)认为，美国通过提升对台湾军售的规模、性能，全面支持台湾当局发展针对中国大陆的“不对称战力”，将制造和强化中美之间在台海地区的安全困境，加剧中国对美国对华采取遏制和削弱意图的担忧。在美国和台湾当局改变现状、破坏台海平衡情况下，中国大陆采取一系列措施维护一个中国原则、反对外部势力干涉，如否定台湾方面声称的“台海中线”并采取军事穿越行动，军事力量投射范围突破第一岛链、朝台岛东侧的西太平洋方向扩展，在台湾岛西南海空方向常态化军事训练，大陆军机舰经巴士海峡、宫古海峡绕台湾本岛巡航等。2020年10月26日，中国外交部宣布，为了维护国家利益，中方决定采取必要措施，对参与对台军售的洛克希德·马丁、波音防务、雷神等美国企业以及在售台武器过程中发挥恶劣作用的美国有关个人和实体实施制裁。针对美国国会在《2018年国防授权法》中写入美台军舰互访的条款，中国驻美外交官对美方表示，“如果美国派军舰去台湾，就会启动中国的《反分裂国家法》”，“美国军舰抵达高雄之日，就是解放军武力统一台湾之时”。
In terms of dynamic interaction, a game of deterrence and counterdeterrence has begun to emerge between the United States and China over security in the Taiwan Strait. Deterrence is a credible retaliatory threat designed to make an adversary aware that its planned military actions will not succeed, that the costs will outweigh the benefits, or that the attempt involves incalculable risk. Deterrence can be achieved through a range of measures: the physical presence of military power, the demonstration of military might, and the limited use of force.52 In the larger picture, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan cannot change the balance of military power in the Taiwan Strait. Trevor Thrall, a scholar of security issues at George Mason University, argues that China has a “massive advantage,” as it is capable of launching a devastating first strike with its missile, air, and cyber capabilities, followed by a blockade of the island with its navy and anti-access/area denial weapons.53 Given the upgrading of substantive political and military relations between the United States and Taiwan, China took the necessary political, diplomatic, and military actions as a warning and deterrence. The United States, however, perceived them as attempts to undermine its strategic credibility and change the status quo, and responded with counterdeterrence measures, including escalated arms sales to Taiwan, frequent patrols by military aircraft and vessels around the island, the strengthening of the U.S.-Taiwan Political and Military Dialogue,54 and the establishment of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). The PDI aims to boost U.S. investment in missile defense, military airfield and port infrastructure, and stocks of fuel and munitions in the Asia-Pacific region, so as to modernize the U.S. military’s forward operating platforms in the Indo-Pacific and enhance deterrence against China. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act authorized approximately $770 billion in defense spending for FY 2022, a 5 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. $7.1 billion was allocated to the PDI. To prevent a fait accompli of cross-Strait reunification, the United States sells offensive missile systems to Taiwan and supports its development and production of medium- and long-range missiles, which harm China’s security interests. In 2021, Taiwan’s defense ministry for the first time sent officials to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, where they discussed with their U.S. counterparts closer cooperation in the development of strategic capabilities as well as new military technologies and operational capabilities. The U.S. Congress has taken a more aggressive stance than the executive branch, and in legislation has included language on inviting Taiwan to participate in the United States’ Exercise Red Flag, considering the feasibility and advisability of resuming mutual naval port of call visits, and expanding “senior military-to-military engagement and joint training” between U.S. and Taiwan armed forces.55 Michael Swaine observes that in U.S. policy circles, those who advocate increasing military deterrence against China have proposed boosting U.S. military capabilities in Asia, assisting Taiwan in developing its capabilities, deepening U.S.-Taiwan political and defense relations, and demanding a greater commitment from Japan to support the United States if it is involved in a conflict over Taiwan. Some have even argued that the United States should go to any lengths to deter China, with calls to deploy troops on Taiwan and conduct joint military exercises.56 The deep mutual suspicion between the United States and China in the context of strategic competition, along with the suspension or discontinuation of U.S.-China communication mechanisms during the Trump era, not only makes it extremely easy for the game of deterrence and counterdeterrence in the Taiwan Strait to escalate, but also makes it difficult to set a stop-loss point, which is not conducive to effective prevention and management of a contingency or crisis. As the growth of China’s military strength and the process of national reunification accelerate, the United States continues to deploy its island chain strategy to contain China. The security dilemma faced by the two countries is likely to worsen as the deterrence game intensifies.
从动态的互动看，中美在台海安全上开始出现“威慑”与“反威慑”的博弈游戏。威慑是一种可信的报复性威胁，旨在使敌方意识到，其计划的军事行动无法取得成功，或者其结果将得不偿失，或者采取行动的风险不可估量。威慑可以通过一系列措施来实现：军力的实际存在、军力的展示以及在有限范围内使用武力。在大形势上，美国对台军售改变不了台海两岸军事实力对比态势。乔治梅森大学研究安全问题的学者特雷弗·思罗尔(Trevor Thrall)认为，中国具有巨大的优势，能够利用导弹、空中和网络能力首先对台湾发动摧毁性打击，然后使用其海军和反介入/区域拒止武器封锁台岛。但美台升级政治、军事实质关系，中国大陆以必要的政治、外交和军事行动进行警告和威慑，这却被美国认为是中方削弱其战略信誉和改变现状，进而采取带有“反威慑”性质的行动，如升级对台军售，军机舰频繁巡逻台湾周边，加强美台政治军事对话(Political and Military Dialogue)，实施“太平洋威慑计划”(Pacific Deterrence Initiative)等。“太平洋威慑计划”旨在加强美国在亚太地区导弹防御、军用机场和港口基础设施、燃料和弹药储备的投资，实现美军在印太前沿作战平台现代化，提升对中国的威慑力。美国《2022财年国防授权法》规定2022年国防开支拨款近7700亿美元，同比增加了5%，其中拨款71亿美元用于“太平洋威慑计划”。为防止可能出现两岸统一的“既成事实”，美国向台湾当局出售进攻性导弹武器，并且支持台湾当局研发和制造中远程导弹，损害中国安全利益。2021年台湾防务部门通过“华美战略能力合作研究案”，首度派员赴美国国防部战略能力办公室，交流新军事技术与作战能力。美国国会的立场比行政部门更激进，在立法中列入邀请台湾参加美国“红旗”军演，考虑重启美台军舰相互停靠的可行性与适当性，“扩大美台高级军事交流与联合军演”等。史文认为，美国国内主张加强对中国军事威慑的人士建议增强美国在亚洲的军事能力，协助台湾增强军事战力，深化美台政治和军事关系，要求日本对涉入台海冲突的美国给予更大的支持承诺，一些人甚至主张美国对华吓阻行动不设限制，包括提出在台岛部署军队和实施美台共同军事演习。中美在战略竞争状况下存在的深度互疑，以及特朗普执政时暂停或中止中美沟通对话机制，使得双方在台海地区的“威慑”与“反威慑”游戏极易升级，设置停损点变得困难，不利于双方有效预防和处置突发意外事件和危机事态。随着中国军事力量发展和推动国家统一进程的加快，美国利用岛链战略遏控中国的部署继续推进，中美在台海地区的安全困境很可能将随“威慑游戏”的升级而加深。
IV. The Biden Administration and the Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait
After taking office on January 20, 2021, Biden formed a governing team composed mainly of establishment Democrats. In an interview with the U.S. media in early February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that China undoubtedly poses the most significant challenge to the United States, but that the relationship is a complicated one with adversarial, competitive, and cooperative aspects. The United States, he added, has to “approach China from a position of strength, not weakness,” and the strength comes from “having strong alliances, something China does not have.”57 In March 2021, the Biden Administration released an interim guidance on the national security strategy, which stated that China “is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”58 Great power rivalry remains a primary national security concern to the United States, and the Taiwan Strait region will continue to be an important arena for U.S.-China strategic competition.
The Biden administration has inherited many of the Trump-era Taiwan policies, but unlike Trump, the Democratic establishment does not favor using the “Taiwan card” as a bargaining chip with China or as a tool to punish or hit back against it—by, for example, simplistically linking the Taiwan issue to other issues such as Hong Kong or the South China Sea. On the contrary, the Biden government has advocated a foreign policy based more on values and alliances, viewing Taiwan as a strategic asset for the “global democratic community.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate hearing that he would “ensure that the United States meets [its] commitment to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability.”59 Austin has also set out the concept of “integrated deterrence,”60 a strategy that involves strengthening the forward deployment of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region; integrating the most advanced weapons systems, technologies, and operational concepts; utilizing the United States’ extensive alliances; bolstering military deterrence against mainland China; and providing assurance for Taiwan’s security. The Department of State, for its part, has stated on various occasions that its commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid” and that it will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act.
At present, the Biden administration sends warships through the Taiwan Strait at a regular frequency of about once a month to maintain a forward military presence and the ability to operate in the Taiwan Strait. On the issue of arms sales to Taiwan, Biden is likely to continue the policy of his predecessor—a course of action necessitated by the United States’ strategy of containing China and the place of Taiwan in its strategy. The mainstream view in U.S. policy circles is that Taiwan must first fully implement the ODC, and that arms procurement and training must align with the development of asymmetric capabilities against China.61 On August 4, 2021, the Biden administration announced its first arms sale to Taiwan—40 M109A6 self-propelled artillery and related equipment worth $750 million—which signaled the continuation of the Trump-era policy of regular arms sales to Taiwan. Some conservative U.S. scholars have even recommended selling more long-range missiles, drones, and undersea weapons to Taiwan.
To increase the strategic cost of China’s policy toward Taiwan, the Biden government has coordinated with Japan, South Korea, the European Union, the G7, and NATO to express strategic concerns about peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, demonstrating a posture of concerted intervention. Leaders of Japan’s ruling party, in particular, have publicly stated for the first time that “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency,” and that Japan will take action to support U.S. intervention in a Taiwan Strait conflict in accordance with the provisions for a “perilous situation” and a “threat to Japan’s survival” in Japan’s new security legislation. The scope of military defense in the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance is clearly extending toward the Taiwan Strait.
The Biden administration’s repeated interventions in the Taiwan issue in the context of strategic competition with China have given rise to concerns in Beijing. When China’s foreign minister Wang Yi met with Wendy Sherman, U.S. deputy secretary of state, on July 26, 2021, he underlined the three red lines that China would insist on: first, the United States must not challenge, slander, or even attempt to subvert the path and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics; second, the United States must not attempt to obstruct or interrupt China’s development process; and third, the United States must not infringe upon China’s state sovereignty, or even damage China’s territorial integrity. He stressed in particular that the Taiwan issue is of utmost importance: “If ‘Taiwan independence’ forces dare to provoke, China has the right to take any necessary measure to stop it. We urge the U.S. side to honor its commitment on Taiwan question and act prudently.”62 On November 16, 2021, Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke extensively about the Taiwan issue in his first video meeting with Biden. He noted a new wave of tensions in the Taiwan Strait and “ascribed the tensions to the repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for U.S. support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China,” which he regarded as dangerous moves “just like playing with fire.” Warning that “whoever plays with fire will get burnt,” Xi described the “true status quo” of the Taiwan issue and the heart of “one China”: “there is but one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing China. Achieving China’s complete reunification is an aspiration shared by all sons and daughters of the Chinese nation. We have patience and will strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts. That said, should the separatist forces for Taiwan independence provoke us, force our hands or even cross the red line, we will be compelled to take resolute measures.”63 Biden responded that the U.S. government remains committed to a long-term and consistent “one China” policy, does not support “Taiwan independence,” and stresses peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Clearly, the complexity and seriousness of the situation in the Taiwan Strait are such that it has necessitated the highest level of communication between the Chinese and U.S. heads of state.
From the complicated signals sent by the Biden administration’s words and deeds, it is obvious that the United States will continue to support Taiwan’s maintenance of its “de facto independence” in pursuit of U.S. strategic interest in sustaining hegemony in the Indo-Pacific. It will sell and transfer defense articles and services to Taiwan, promote U.S.-Taiwan military security cooperation, and improve the joint interoperability of military equipment, technologies, and exercises. At the same time, the Biden government needs to set up “guardrails” for U.S.-China strategic competition in order to prevent a Taiwan Strait crisis and a conflict with China. It will thus also offer some “assurances” to China, such as stating that there is no reason for the two countries to let “competition veer into conflict,”64 that the United States has no intention to change the “one China” policy, and that it does not support “Taiwan independence.” In the words of Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, the United States maintains a delicate and dangerous balance between upholding the “one China” policy and supporting Taiwan.
However, the reality facing China and the United States is that, given the DPP administration’s tendency toward “Taiwan independence” in policies, the structural issues of strategic competition and mutual suspicion will inevitably affect the Taiwan issue. China believes that the United States is increasingly deviating from its commitments regarding the Taiwan issue and constantly provoking China and challenging its red lines on the issues of sovereignty and security, such as fudging on the “one China” policy and supporting the DPP administration’s push for “incremental Taiwan independence” (e.g., “taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to seek independence” and “relying on the United States to seek independence” in recent years). The United States, on the other hand, believes that China’s rising overall power has increasingly enabled the country to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Fearing the prospect of a non-peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue, the United States interprets China’s policy to check “Taiwan independence” as a threat to Taiwan’s survival and the United States’ strategic credibility. Shelley Rigger, a professor at Davidson College, argues that U.S.-China relations are increasingly caught in a security dilemma. As the United States perceives China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait as “coercive” and China perceives the United States as promoting “Taiwan independence,” a spiral of threats and counterthreats ensues, increasing the risk of conflict between the two countries.65 According to The U.S. Military Presence in the Asia-Pacific 2020, a report by China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, U.S. actions in the Asia-Pacific region are gradually creating a new security dilemma in U.S.-China military relations. Viewing China as a “military competitor,” the United States maintains a large forward presence, consolidates and further develops military alliances, and conducts intensive reconnaissance and provocative activities against China, all of which have made China feel an unprecedented sense of “insecurity” and “threat” from the United States. Faced with such a predicament, China has no choice but to increase its defense budget and strengthen its military force to an appropriate extent to safeguard national security.66 As the security dilemma faced by the United States and China in the Taiwan Strait worsens, it has become ever more important for both sides to understand each other’s strategic intentions and actions in order to manage the risk of conflict.
With the intensification of strategic competition between China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific and rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait, more and more military confrontations between China and the United States are likely to play out around the Taiwan Strait. It is feared that the existing mechanism for reciprocal notification of major military activities and the rules of behavior for the safety of air and maritime encounters will be increasingly inadequate to deal with the various new problems that may arise during encounters between the two militaries at sea and in the air. As Zhang Tuosheng argues, to ease the confrontation in the Taiwan Strait and prevent military conflicts in the Taiwan Strait, China and the United States have to establish an effective mechanism for crisis management and seriously implement it throughout the processes of crisis prevention and control. Additionally, the two countries should resume strategic communication as soon as possible so as to rebuild mutual trust on the basis of the “one China” principle.67 Apart from a strong crisis management mechanism, the United States needs in particular to understand and engage properly with China’s policies of promoting peaceful cross-Strait relations and advancing the process of national reunification, which means putting an end to the practice of playing up the various “China threat” theories and the notion of “reunification by force,” reducing unconstructive Taiwan-related policies and actions, and reining in “Taiwan independence” activities—which pose a destructive threat to U.S.-China relations and to stability in the Taiwan Strait.
V. Concluding Remarks
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan reflect the direction of the U.S. government’s Taiwan policy, especially its perception of the overall military situation in the Taiwan Strait and its strategy on intervention. Having long used alliances and partnerships as an asymmetric strategic advantage against competitors, the United States regards Taiwan as a strategic asset at the front line of the Indo-Pacific as the U.S.-China competition enters a new phase. For now and for some time to come, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, along with the ensuing security issues, remain one of the most important aspects of the U.S.-China rivalry over the Taiwan issue. As a result, the types, quantity, and quality of U.S. weapons and equipment sold to Taiwan—and how they relate to the changes in the Taiwan authorities’ defense concept and policy—deserve attention.
Against the backdrop of strategic competition between China and the United States, the DPP authorities—emboldened by U.S. support—have refused to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus and espoused cross-Strait separation. Those policies are bound to further exacerbate tensions and confrontation in cross-Strait relations, and the incompatibility between mainland China’s deterrence of “Taiwan independence” and the United States’ connivance will continue to grow. In the future, the Taiwan Strait and its surrounding areas will see increasingly frequent Chinese and U.S. military activities as the two countries pursue their respective strategic security interests, which will very likely lead to a spiral of deterrence and counterdeterrence, making it a challenging task to understand each other’s strategic intentions and prevent crisis and conflict.