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Congressional Research Service, "Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990," December 2, 2009

This CRS report was written by Shirley A. Kan, specialist in Asian defense affairs.
December 2, 2009

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This report, updated as warranted, discusses U.S. security assistance to Taiwan, or Republic of China (ROC), including policy issues for Congress and legislation. Congress has oversight of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), P.L. 96-8, which has governed arms sales to Taiwan since 1979, when the United States recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) instead of the ROC. Two other relevant parts of the “one China” policy are the August 17, 1982, U.S.-PRC Joint Communique and the “Six Assurances” to Taiwan. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have been significant. The United States also has expanded military ties with Taiwan after the PRC’s missile firings in 1995-1996. However, there is no defense treaty with Taiwan.

At the U.S.-Taiwan arms sales talks on April 24, 2001, President George W. Bush approved for possible sale diesel-electric submarines, P-3 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft (linked to the submarine sale), four decommissioned U.S. Kidd-class destroyers, and other items. Bush also deferred decisions on Aegis-equipped destroyers and other items, while denying other requests. Afterward, attention turned to Taiwan, where the military, civilian officials, and legislators from competing political parties debated contentious issues about how much to spend on defense and which U.S. weapons systems to acquire, despite the increasing threat (including a missile buildup) from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), as described in the Pentagon’s reports to Congress on PRC military power. In February 2003, the Administration pointed Taiwan to three priorities for defense: command and control, missile defense, and ASW. Some in the United States questioned Taiwan’s seriousness about its self-defense, level of defense spending, and protection of secrets. The Pentagon broadened its focus from Taiwan’s arms purchases to its regular defense budget, readiness for self-defense, and critical infrastructure protection. Blocked by the Kuomintang (KMT) party in the Legislative Yuan (LY) that opposed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s president (2000-2008), the Special Budget (not passed) for submarines, P-3C ASW aircraft, and PAC-3 missile defense systems was cut from $18 billion in 2004 to $9 billion (for submarines only) in 2005. In March 2006, Taiwan’s defense minister requested a 2006 Supplemental Defense Budget (not passed) in part for submarine procurement, P-3Cs, and PAC-2 upgrades (not new PAC-3 missiles). In June 2007, the LY passed Taiwan’s 2007 defense budget with funds for P-3C planes, PAC-2 upgrades, and F-16C/D fighters. In December 2007, the LY approved $62 million to start the sub design phase. After the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou became President in May 2008, Taiwan retained the requests but has cut the defense budgets.

Also, attention turned to U.S. decisions on pending arms sales. In 2008, congressional concerns mounted about a suspected “freeze” in President Bush’s notifications to Congress on eight pending arms sales as well as his refusal to accept Taiwan’s request for F-16C/D fighters. On October 3, 2008, Bush finally notified Congress. However, he submitted six of the eight pending sales (not a “package”) for a combined value of about $6.5 billion. The Administration did not submit for congressional review the pending programs for Black Hawk utility helicopters or the submarine design. Moreover, the sale of PAC-3 missile defense systems was broken up into two parts (with notification of one part). Other pending programs include the Osprey-class minehunters that Congress authorized for sale in P.L. 110-229 and follow-on technical support for the Posheng command and control program. Congress might further assert its legislated role in any objective determinations of Taiwan’s needs and oversight of President Obama’s adherence to the TRA. The Administration argues that it has been reviewing pending arms sales, but some in Washington and Taipei perceive delayed U.S. decisions. Legislation discussed in the section on the 111th Congress include: National Defense Authorization Act for FY2010, P.L. 111-84; H.Res. 733 (Gingrey); H.R. 4102 (Ros-Lehtinen); and H.Res. 927 (Barton).

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