Imagine you were a Chinese leader in Beijing trying to gauge U.S. resolve, and this is what you saw. Despite decades of currency manipulation by China that has destroyed millions of U.S. jobs, Washington declines to label Beijing a currency manipulator. Despite Chinese theft of intellectual property that the International Trade Commission says cost U.S. companies $48 billion in 2009 alone, Washington declines to press Beijing for reform. Despite millions of Chinese attempts to penetrate U.S. information networks every day, Washington declines to blame Beijing. Despite repeated pleas from Taiwan for help in replacing aging fighters, Washington refuses to act for fear of offending Beijing.
The message these actions send to Chinese leaders is unmistakable: Washington is afraid of Beijing. It’s afraid the biggest overseas holder of U.S. debt will stop taking more American I.O.U.’s. It’s afraid the world’s fastest-growing economy will discriminate against U.S. companies. And it’s afraid that meeting America’s defensive commitments to Taiwan will lead the Chinese to pour even more money into their current military buildup. That buildup is already fielding super-quiet submarines, anti-satellite weapons, stealthy strike aircraft and maneuvering ballistic-missile warheads that can hit U.S. warships — weapons clearly designed to exclude U.S. forces from the Western Pacific in the future.
Washington’s passivity is emboldening China. It is also sending precisely the wrong message to local allies such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea who need reassurances that China’s drive for regional dominance will be curbed. America can’t afford to let China dominate a region that is fast becoming the industrial heartland of the global economy, and yet the White House has failed to signal resolve as China exercises it growing power. A clear, tangible message needs to be sent that America has run out of patience with Chinese behavior.
The easiest way to send that message is to help Taiwan meet its defensive needs by allowing the island republic to replace aging tactical aircraft with new F-16 fighters. Forty-five U.S. Senators sent a letter to the White House demanding that on May 26, pointing out that Taiwan needs to retire 70 percent of its fighters over the next decade and the remaining fighters — 150 earlier versions of the F-16 in need of upgrades — are not adequate to maintain a military balance across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s government has repeatedly sought the opportunity to buy newer versions of the F-16, and it has repeatedly been rebuffed. It only wants 66 of the fighters and they don’t begin to approach the capabilities of the latest U.S. fighters, but they’re good enough to prevent a successful invasion by China. If Washington fails to act, it won’t just send the wrong message to everyone in the region; it will increase the likelihood American warfighters may soon be called on to protect an endangered democracy that could have defended itself if our leaders had agreed to provide the necessary tools.
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