Taiwan Communiqué No. 91, May 2000

Israel's AWACS sale to China

Jerusalem should know better

Israel is a small country, surrounded by hostile neighbors. In many ways, it is in a similar position as Taiwan. That is why it is so incredulous that Israel is now proceeding with the sale of AWACS type radar aircraft to China, an Israeli-designed Phalcon radar installed in a Russian-made Ilyushin-76, modified as an A-50.

Being a small nation surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israel should display solidarity with Taiwan, instead of assisting the aggressor. With the proposed radar sale, it is helping a giant Goliath threaten and intimidate a small David.

The proposed sale will strengthen China's repressive hand against a democratic Taiwan, and therefore seriously threatens peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. It will also endanger US ships and aircraft in the region.

During the past weeks, United States' Secretary of Defense Cohen and even President Clinton himself exerted strong pressure on Israel not to go ahead with the sale.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: It seems Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his government are not willing to listen. That's why we fully support the suggestions in Congress to suspend US funding for military aid to Israel, and delay US sales of weapons and advanced military technology until Israel cancels the China deal.

Israel, we respect your country for its courage in the face of adversity, but this move is simply shortsighted and outrageous. We hope you realize that such a sale to China is equivalent to other nations' selling advanced military equipment to belligerent neighbors of yours, such as Syria or Iraq.

Caught between principle and greed

In the Washington Times of 20 April 2000, the well-known scholar Amos Perlmutter wrote an article about the AWACS sale titled "Caught between the United States and China". While we of course highly respect Professor Perlmutter, we disagree with him that Israel should try to "defuse the controversy" and work towards a "partial arms deal with China" simply because of the critical position of the US Congress and American public opinion.

Even if the US had not said a word about the deal, Israel should not go ahead with it at all: it is caught between principle and greed. The principle is that Israel should align with like-minded nations like Taiwan, which hold the same value of democracy and human rights. Instead, it is putting profit before principle, and is selling an advanced radar system to a China, which is highly repressive and violates human rights.

Professor Perlmutter rightly points out that there is a smell of hypocrisy in the position of the Clinton Administration, in that it itself is exporting military and high-tech equipment to China, and that it has closed its eyes in cases of theft of high-technology by China.

Weapon sales are generally not a problem if the recipient is a democratic nation, but China's practices against its own people and against its neighbors border on those of Nazi-Germany. Would Israel (if it had existed at that time) sold weapons to Germany in the late 1930s, when Hitler was threatening Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Netherlands? Of course not. So, why is it delivering high-tech arms to China now?

As the columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote in an excellent editorial in the Boston Globe ("A costly sale by Israel", 13 April 2000):

"Israel's 20-year history of arming the Chinese is a blot on its reputation. A nation built on the ashes of the Holocaust ought to hold itself to a higher standard. China is governed by thugs. The ruling party has committed savage violence against millions of innocent victims. Does Israel think it enhances its own reputation by making common cause with such a regime?

Israelis have no greater moral asset than their status as an oasis of enlightenment and liberty in a desert of autocracy and intolerance. That is why they are so admired by so many. If they are willing to sacrifice that asset just to make a profit, they will have lost something worth a lot more than $250 million."

Report from Washington

The TSEA moves (a bit) in the Senate

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Congress helping the TSEA along

On 1 February 2000, the US House of Representatives passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) with an overwhelming majority of 341 to 70. In our previous issue we presented the arguments in favor of the TSEA (see "Why the TSEA is needed", Taiwan Communiqué no. 90, pp. 21-23).

Since then, it has been waiting for an opportune moment to be put on the agenda of the Senate. Leading senators have held back in order to avoid giving China an excuse to kick up yet another storm, while at the same time having the legislation ready to go, just in case China would initiate threatening military exercises or missile firings at the time of Taiwan's presidential elections.

In mid-April 2000, Senate Majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) formally put the bill on the Senate's agenda, after twelve prominent Senators wrote him a letter, urging him to move the legislation forward. In the letter, the senators referred to China's purchase of Sovremenny-class destroyers equipped with Sunburn missiles and Kilo-class submarines equipped with evasive torpedoes, as well as China's continued deployment of short and medium range ballistic missiles across from Taiwan.

The senators stated that these military developments have been matched by indications of an intent to use force against Taiwan. They added that China has consistently refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan and that they believed that China's threats will only increase as Taiwan progresses down the path of democracy.

The twelve senators, who were led by Tim Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) and included Democrats Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) as well as prominents figures like Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Slade Gordon (R-Washington) also referred to recent reports that a study by the US Department of Defense has indicated that the Taiwanese military faces a multitude of problems stemming form technological shortcomings, including an inability to adequately defend against air attacks, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. These deficiencies can be attributed, at least in part, to the military's isolation.

However, fearing that the TSEA passage would somehow interfere with the efforts of the Clinton Administration to pass "Normal Permanent Trade Relations" (NPTR for China, senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) -- a strong pro-trade advocate -- put a "hold" on the measure, meaning that senator Lott will have to muster 60% of the votes to overcome a possible fillibuster.

To complicate matter further, Alaska Republican senator Frank Murkowski -- a proponent of the bill -- travelled to Taiwan in the second half of April, and, in a meeting with President-elect Chen Shui-bian, urged Mr. Chen to agree to a postponing of the legislation until after the Presidential inauguration on 20 May 2000.

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