The United States' top-ranking representative to Taiwan has assured officials in Taipei that their interests were not compromised during last week's state visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao. The comments come amid missile tests by Taiwan and revelations of a new Chinese stealth fighter jet.
Raymond Burghardt is chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. He told reporters Tuesday that a joint statement issued during the summit was "purposefully constructed" so that it "in no way breaks any new ground on any issues that would be a concern to Taiwan."
U.S. support for Taiwan is one of the biggest obstacles to closer relations between the United States and China, which considers the island a breakaway province and claims a right to retake it by force if necessary.
Dean Cheng, a Research Fellow at the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation, says the reports of the new Chinese stealth fighter suggest a possible hostile move.
"The revelations of a report now about a year old from the U.S. defense intelligence agency suggesting that the balance of power in the skies over the [Taiwan] Straits is shifting against Taiwan should be a concern. The J-20, the new Chinese fighter, only underscores that shift away from a stable situation towards one where China may think that it can establish air superiority, a precursor to a more forceful solution," he said.
Taiwan conducted a missile test last week that had mixed results, with six out of 19 missiles failing to hit their targets. More than 1,000 Chinese missiles are thought to be aimed at Taiwan.
With China's new stealth fighter, Hong Kong City University Professor of Politics Joseph Chen says Taiwan may be reevaluating its military strategy. "The Taipei authorities understand that they have to adopt some kind of asymmetric strategy or tactics in dealing with the expanding, improving Chinese air force. So there is a lot of debate on whether Taiwan should buy, should acquire more advanced fighters or they should spend more money on better missiles," he said.
Taiwan has been urging the United States to sell it advanced F-16 jet fighters. But Dean Cheng says the Chinese stealth threat remains largely unknown.
"What we do not know is how well the J-20 actually does in terms of two important areas. One is air combat maneuvering. That is how maneuverable is it, which may or may not be relevant if it is, for example, designed as an interceptor. But two, more importantly, is how stealthy is the airplane. If you talk to various analysts and engineers, you hear a variety of reactions to what we have seen," he said.
Taiwan has enjoyed rapidly improving relations with China, but remains worried about a growing military imbalance. And, Cheng says as China prepares for a leadership change, the United States should remain consistent in its approach to Taiwan.
"It is important for the United States to consistently send a message that its positions are not going to change regardless of leadership changes in China. That our security commitments, that our alliance commitments and our legal commitments will remain the same," he said.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging "one China" while remaining the island's biggest ally and arms supplier.