Some interesting news out of Washington, as 14 Senators sent a letter to the President on the 30 of June asking him why the heck the Administration has decided to stop selling weapons to Taiwan. The letter says that Taiwan is an important customer for US weapons, and notes that it is in US interests to sell weapons to Taiwan, as well as in the interests of a “secure and prosperous Taiwan” that can engage other nations from a position of strength. The letter observes:

“We believe that a freeze on foreign military sales to Taiwan violates the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act. We have made attempts to clarify the status of these requests but to no avail. We request a briefing on the status of these sales from all appropriate agencies, and urge the Administration to expeditiously execute consideration of these requests.”

Another bit of news making the rounds also relates to the arms freeze. A couple of weeks ago, when the story first broke, the US had claimed that the KMT had asked it to freeze weapons sales so that the delicate negotiations with China weren’t perturbed. Yeah, right. The interesting thing is that apparently KMT officials have denied this strenuously both publicly and privately. It appears that no such request was made and the media either misunderstand Washington officialese or the White House was speaking with a forked tongue. In any case the de facto freeze long predates the arms talks….

UPDATED: Here’s the text:

Dear President Bush:
For decades, the United States and Taiwan have maintained a mutually beneficial economic and political relationship. Taiwan is one of our strongest allies in the Asia Pacific region and we believe it is essential that there be a peaceful environment in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. has a long history of making available to Taiwan defense articles and services that are essential in the goal of enabling Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability and we are legally bound under the Taiwan Relations Act to continue doing so.

In 2006, Taiwan ranked 5th among worldwide recipients of U.S. foreign military sales, receiving $970 million in defense articles and services. In December 2007, Taiwan’ Legislative Yuan approved a 2008 Defense budget, which includes funds to procure a significant package of weapons to further its military modernization efforts. Among those requests were twelve P3-C planes and three PAC-II missile upgrades which you approved in April, 2001. Other requests that are still pending include eight diesel submarines, thirty Apache helicopters, E-2 aircraft upgrades, sea-launched Harpoon missiles, precision attack missiles and sixty-six F-16 fighter aircraft.

We welcome Taiwan’s effort to bolster its defense capabilities and request for American arms. Upon reception of Congressional Notifications, we look forward to the opportunity to work with the Administration in completing these sales as soon as possible. We are concerned by recent reports of a possible “freeze” on all foreign military sales to Taiwan. We believe that a freeze on foreign military sales to Taiwan violates the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act. We have made attempts to clarify the status of these requests but to no avail. We request a briefing on the status of these sales from all appropriate agencies, and urge the Administration to expeditiously execute consideration of these requests.

In March 2007, China announced that their 2007 defense budget would total $46 billion, although Secretary of Defense Gates estimated that China’s total defense spending for 2007 could be as high as $139 billion. The military and strategic imperatives for Taiwan are real and urgent, and if we fail to show the necessary resolve it would mean missing a significant opportunity to improve cross-strait peace and security - a vital U.S. interest.

We would like to echo your statement on March 22 regarding Taiwan’s recent election, stating that you are “confident that the election and the democratic process it represents will advance Taiwan as a prosperous, secure and well-governed society.” We understand and support our administration’s “One China” policy and all agree that a strong, defendable Taiwan is in our nation’s best interests.

In our view, a secure and prosperous Taiwan requires the means to provide for its own self defense and the ability to engage its neighbors without fear of military intimidation. Taiwan’s ability to maintain its defense rests heavily upon its ability to acquire defense articles that are capable of deterring aggressive neighbors. As your statement also points out, Taiwan has a right to be “secure,” and that can only be guaranteed by an unambiguous and non-negotiable commitment from the United States to provide Taiwan with weapons systems consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act.
Sincerely,

UPDATE II: Signatories were Inhofe, Johnson, Vitter, Kyl, Coburn, Brownback, Sessions, Chambliss, Martinez, Lieberman, Graham, Bond, Allard, Grassley.