TAIPEI, TAIWAN - The U.S. has renewed efforts to help Taiwan strengthen its defense capabilities in recent weeks, approving a series of million-dollar military sales to Taiwan and promising to resolve the $19 billion backlog of Taiwanese defense purchases from the U.S.
The latest moves received mixed responses from the Taiwanese government and the Taiwanese people. Taiwan's Presidential Office characterized the latest U.S. transfer of weapons to Taiwan under the Foreign Military Financing mechanism as the fulfillment of Washington's commitment to Taiwan's security.
However, some Taiwanese people are suspicious about the timing and motives behind the latest announcement.
"While the Ukraine War makes me realize U.S. military sales to Taiwan are necessary, I don't think the U.S. government respects the requests that Taiwan has made over the years," Kai Wang, a 46-year-old woman working in the pharmaceutical industry, told VOA in a phone interview.
In her view, Taiwan rarely has the autonomy to decide what types of weapons it wants to purchase from the U.S. Rather, the deliverables often seem to have been "decided" for Taiwan, which deepens public suspicion toward the motivation behind U.S. military sales to Taiwan.
"There should be more public discussions about the Taiwanese government's policies related to U.S. military sales," Wang added.
Other Taiwanese citizens think there are often deeper political meanings behind U.S. military sales to Taiwan.
"If the U.S. intends to support Taiwan through these military sales, they should be conducted more discreetly, rather than publicly announcing these programs," Peter Yang, a 36-year-old salesperson, told VOA in a phone interview.
Instead of continuing to acquire expensive military aircraft from the U.S., Yang thinks Taiwan needs more concrete international support and foreign investment.
"Receiving two fighter jets from the U.S. won't suddenly turn Taiwan into a military power," he said.
During a visit to Taiwan, Rob Wittman, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, promised to resolve the $19 billion dollar backlog of Taiwan's defense purchases from the U.S. and reiterated that Washington would come to Taiwan's defense in the event of a Chinese invasion.
"Know that any hostile unprovoked attack on Taiwan will result in a resolute reaction from the U.S.," he said during a speech ahead of his meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Sep. 1.
Political leaning influences Taiwanese people's views on U.S. military sales
Apart from the suspicion expressed by some Taiwanese people, several opinion polls in recent years also show contradicting views on U.S. military sales to Taiwan and Washington's security commitment to the island among Taiwanese people.
According to American Portrait, a study of Taiwanese people's perception of the U.S. released by Academia Sinica in January, 66.5% of the respondents support U.S. military sales to Taiwan. Additionally, more than 60% of Taiwanese people say when U.S. officials visit Taiwan or pledge to come to Taiwan's defense publicly, their confidence in the U.S. military coming to Taiwan's defense increases.
Some analysts say Taiwanese people's political leaning is an important factor that influences their attitude toward U.S. security commitment. "Among the 66.5% of the public who support U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the percentage of supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is about three times that of supporters of the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT,)" Pan Hsin-Hsin, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taiwan and one of the authors of American Portrait, told VOA in a written response.
Data from the survey also shows that while a certain percentage of Taiwanese people think the U.S. is untrustworthy, they believe Washington's security commitment to Taiwan is credible, Pan added.
Concerns about U.S. military sales turning Taiwan into a war zone
Another survey conducted by Global Views Monthly in 2021 found that 43.1% of respondents think U.S. military sales to Taiwan will further increase tension across the Taiwan Strait. Whereas 37.8% of the respondents think U.S. military sales to Taiwan can help maintain peace between China and Taiwan.
In recent years, China has increased its military aggression against Taiwan by constantly deploying military aircraft and naval vessels to areas near Taiwan and holding large-scale military exercises as responses to high-level engagement between Taiwan and foreign countries.
Some Taiwanese people told VOA that as the U.S. provides more offensive weapons for Taiwan through military sales, they believe it increases the risks of prompting a potential Chinese military attack on Taiwan.
"If the DPP government falls for Washington's conspiracy and acquires more offensive weapons, it will prompt Beijing to launch an attack on Taiwan and a war would break out across the Taiwan Strait," Denise Luo, a 56-year-old housewife, told VOA in a phone interview.
Instead of viewing U.S. military sales to Taiwan purely as an instigator of potential military conflicts across the Taiwan Strait, Albert Lin, a 47-year-old banker in Taiwan, thinks it's important to consider it as part of Washington's strategy to maintain the status quo across the Indo-Pacific region.
"I believe U.S. military sales to Taiwan is part of Washington's strategy to maintain a balanced environment in the Indo-Pacific region," he told VOA in a phone interview.
Despite the concerns expressed by some Taiwanese people, experts don't think "American skepticism" will become a mainstream topic in Taiwan, especially as the island gears up for the presidential election scheduled for next January.
"The best to know that is by looking at what political parties are saying during presidential elections," Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told VOA in a phone interview.
"Every Taiwanese presidential candidate just did or will do a big trip to the U.S., and from the electoral perspective, no presidential candidate will say anything that promotes American skepticism. They know the U.S.-Tawian relationship is Taiwan's most important relationship," he added.