Threading the Needle: Proposals for U.S. and Chinese Actions on Arms Sales to Taiwan

Policy Report | September 10, 2013

The EastWest Institute has released a new report that offers several new ideas for managing one of the most contentious issues in the bilateral relationship between the United States and China—that of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz calls it "a bold and pathbreaking effort to demystify the issue."

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Download the report in simplified Chinese.

Threading the Needle: Proposals for U.S. and Chinese Actions on Arms Sales to Taiwan is unique in a number of ways:

  • It is the first report by a U.S.-based think tank to conclude publicly that both the United States and China have, for their own reasons, not fully complied with their commitments to each other on the issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
  • It argues that the United States can simultaneously adhere to established U.S. law and policy, respect China's legitimate concerns and stand up for Taiwan. The conventional wisdom is that these three aspects are mutually exclusive, and the U.S. government can only achieve two of these objectives at the same time.
  • It recommends a set of unilateral and voluntary actions by the United States and China that are new and viable. It proposes that the United States cap its annual arms deliveries (as opposed to announced sales) at a level that complies with the key stipulation of the U.S.-China Joint Communique of August 17, 1982, adjusted for inflation. It also calls on China to remove one of its five short-range missile brigades aimed at Taiwan and to dismantle the underlying infrastructure. These two recommendations are unique because they are specific and broadly commensurate in scale and impact.

Co-author Piin-Fen Kok, director of EWI's China, East Asia and United States Program, said: "This report seeks to present a balanced assessment of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and China's military buildup across the Taiwan Strait over the last 30 years, and provide some fresh thinking on how we can achieve a better status quo and reduced tensions in this area."

Co-author David Firestein EWI's vice president, added: "Any way forward must have the buy-in of all three stakeholders—the United States, mainland China and Taiwan."

Threading the Needle is the result of two years of research and discreet consultations with policymakers and scholars from the United States, China and Taiwan. It has received advance praise from key experts in all three places. Along with Shultz, they include: former U.S. National Security Advisor, General (ret.) James L. Jones; Ambassador Ma Zhengang, President of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association; and Ambassador Stephen S.F. Chen, Convener of the National Security Division at Taiwan's National Policy Foundation.

Click here to view coverage of the report, in the Taipei Times

Click here to read about the report's launch event in Washington D.C.

Click here to listen to co-author David Firestein discuss the report in an interview with Radio France Internationale.

Click here to read Piin-Fen Kok discuss recommendations from Threading the Needle in the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute blog.