'US go-ahead for frigate sales to Taiwan soon'

Members of the National Security Bureau take part in a drill next to a national flag at its headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov 13, 2015.
Members of the National Security Bureau take part in a drill next to a national flag at its headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov 13, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

Green light for first American arms sales to island in 4 years expected as early as this week

WASHINGTON • The United States is expected as soon as this week to authorise the sale of two guided missile frigates to Taiwan, congressional sources said, in spite of China's opposition to the deal.

"We're expecting an announcement as early as this week," a Republican congressional aide said on Monday. Another congressional aide said the notification from the Obama administration was expected "any time now".

The sale would mark the first time in four years that the US has shipped arms to Taiwan, the longest gap in such arms sales in nearly four decades. It comes a year after Congress passed the Naval Transfer Act authorising the sale of up to four Perry-class frigates to Taiwan in December last year.

Taiwan has said it expects to pay about US$176 million (S$248 million) for the two vessels.

President Barack Obama signed the Act into law, but his administration still has to tell Congress its plans to move ahead with the sale, part of Washington's commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure Taipei can maintain a credible defence.

Past US weapons sales to Taiwan have attracted strong condemnation in China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.

Analysts and congressional sources believe the process has been held up by the administration's desire to maintain stable working relations with China, an increasingly powerful strategic rival but also a vital economic partner as the world's second-largest economy.

Congressional sources said the White House was pushing to move ahead with the deal before the end of this year - an important deadline because of Taipei's budget cycle.

"This is positive and helpful towards promoting regional peace and stability," Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesman David Lo said yesterday, adding that the ministry has not received official notice about the authorisation.

The frigates will come out of existing US inventory.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the US last Friday said China "firmly opposes any arms sales from the United States to Taiwan".

The new sales would come at a period of heightened tensions between the US and China over the South China Sea, where Washington has been critical of Beijing's building of man-made islands to assert expansive territorial claims.

While Taiwan has been overshadowed recently as a US-China issue by the South China Sea, it could flare up again, especially with Taiwanese elections coming up next month and a party which traditionally favours independence from China expected to win.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline ''US go-ahead for frigate sales to Taiwan soon''. Print Edition | Subscribe