Monday, June 13, 2011

Analysis: Demystifying China’s ‘red line’ on the F-16s

While they should not be taken lightly, threats of retaliation by Beijing over arms sales to Taiwan are often more bluster than a real promise of pain

With pressure mounting on the administration of US President Barack Obama to release the 66 F-16C/D aircraft requested by Taipei, Chinese officials have threatened that such a sale would cross a so-called “red line” that risked damaging relations between Beijing and Washington.

As defense experts and officials endeavor to explain Washington’s reluctance to release the fighter aircraft — touted as necessary to maintain a balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait — many have concluded that crossing Beijing’s red line would come at an unbearable cost to the US. However, beyond Beijing’s threat of once again suspending military exchanges with the US, the consequences of crossing the red line remain largely undefined.

When asked by the Taipei Times to help define what those costs might entail, a number of experts seemed to agree on the following conclusion: Not only would Beijing have limited retaliatory options, but the US could mitigate their impact with relative ease.

Furthermore, if the past 20 years of cross-strait negotiations are any indication, there is no correlation between major US arms sales to Taiwan and a chill in relations between Taipei and Beijing — in fact, major arms packages released in 1992, 2008 and last year were accompanied by diplomatic breakthroughs across the Strait.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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