Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 25

By David G. Wiencek

China’s recent proposal to exchange its missiles deployed against Taiwan for reduced U.S. arms sales to Taiwan is an unsuccessful attempt at diplomatic linkage that will actually end up drawing increased scrutiny to China’s own ongoing military and missile buildup, as well as its unwillingness to renounce the use of force against Taiwan.

The proposal, which Jiang Zemin reportedly made to George W. Bush in Crawford in October, would seem from press accounts to have been an informal one. But it was brought up again in November during meetings between Vice Premier Qian Qichen and Defense Minister Chi Haotian and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry in Beijing. A senior Chinese official is quoted as describing it as “well thought through.”

So far Jiang’s offer has failed to change U.S. policy. Citing a “Bush administration official” about Bush’s response, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz wrote, “The president dismissed the offer.” [1] In addition, Taiwan’s representative to the United States Chen Chien-jen was reported to have been told by U.S. officials that “the U.S. government would not be so naive as to accept Jiang’s proposal.” [2] Even a Washington Post report from Beijing intended to stress the positive aspects of Jiang’s offer noted that the response of “Bush administration officials” suggested the proposal was a “nonstarter.” [3]

Furthermore, in recent meetings with senior Chinese counterparts, U.S. officials have continued to call attention to the issue of China’s missiles aimed at Taiwan. Douglas Feith, Defense Department undersecretary for policy, said that the Jiang proposal did not come up at the U.S.-China Defense Consultative Talks in Washington on December 9, but that “the topic of China’s missile buildup across from Taiwan did.” This build-up, he said, does “not contribute to the stability of the area [and]… is threatening and appears to be designed to… coerce and intimidate.” [4] The next day, in a meeting at the White House, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice reportedly told Chinese Lieutenant General Xiong Guankai that “there is no justification for the continued buildup of Chinese missiles along the Taiwan Strait.” [5]