China threatens sanctions on US firms linked to Taiwan warplanes sale

In this photo taken on Sept 16, 2014, a Taiwan Air Force F-16 fighter jet lands on a closed section of highway during the annual Han Kuang military exercises in Chiayi, central Taiwan.
In this photo taken on Sept 16, 2014, a Taiwan Air Force F-16 fighter jet lands on a closed section of highway during the annual Han Kuang military exercises in Chiayi, central Taiwan.PHOTO: AP

BEIJING (AFP) - China on Wednesday (Aug 21) blasted a planned US arms shipment to self-ruled Taiwan and threatened to sanction US firms involved in the sale of F-16 fighter jets.

"China will take all necessary measures to safeguard our interests including imposing sanctions on the US companies participating in this arms sale to Taiwan," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing.

The US State Department on Tuesday (Aug 20) approved the sale of 66 Lockheed Martin-built fighters, the F-16C/D Block 70, in an US$8 billion (S$11.06 billion) deal, to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that President Donald Trump had green-lighted the proposed sale after Congress was notified last week.

The F-16s "are deeply consistent with the arrangements, the historical relationship between the United States and China", Mr Pompeo said.

"Our actions are consistent with past US policy. We are simply following through on the commitments we've made to all of the parties."

Taiwan's plan to upgrade its air defences comes amid increasing Chinese military incursions into its air space.

A spokesman for the Taiwanese president released a statement saying the jets would "substantially enhance our air defence capabilities to help Taiwan's self-defence and maintain the people's freedom and welfare".

The sale's approval will have a key role in "peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and region, especially in the wake of China's frequent military actions... in the region in recent years", the statement said.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a part of China awaiting reunification, but the island is self-ruled and is a close ally of the US.

In a statement, the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees US foreign military sales, said Taiwan's purchase of the F-16s "will not alter the basic military balance in the region".

"This proposed sale will contribute to the recipient's capability to provide for the defence of its airspace, regional security, and interoperability with the United States."

Taiwan already has a fleet of old-model F-16s purchased in 1992, which have undergone several crucial upgrades.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin says the newest version, the F-16 Block 70/72, includes many avionics, weapons and radar technologies not in existence when earlier models were created. It is structurally stronger, the company says, so that it "can fly and fight to 2070 and beyond".

The approval of the sale comes as Washington and Beijing face off in tough trade negotiations that economists say are hurting both of the superpowers, as well as dragging down the global economy.