Sale of US fighter jets to Taiwan

China will not sit idly by, warns general

Beijing will retaliate further against US, on top of punishing foreign firms linked to deal

The US is installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan's existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.
The US is installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan's existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • China "will not sit idly by" if the United States proceeds with a sale of advanced F-16V fighter jets to Taiwan, a Chinese general said, while warning of other potential countermeasures in addition to punishing foreign firms involved in the deal.

Beijing considered the sale a violation of previous US commitments to China regarding Taiwan, which it considers its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary, said Major-General Chen Rongdi, chief of the Institute of War Studies at the Academy of Military Sciences.

He did not elaborate on what additional measures China might take.

"China will not sit idly by," Maj-Gen Chen said on Thursday at a forum sponsored by China's official journalists' association.

"Of course, we don't rule out additional measures."

Beijing has repeatedly said that it would levy sanctions against US companies linked to the planned US$8 billion (S$11 billion) sale, and demanded that Washington cancel the deal immediately.

China has made such threats regarding previous arms sales by the US, but they have had limited effect because the companies involved are either important to China's own nascent commercial aviation industry, or have little or no business with the country.

Both Maj-Gen Chen and Colonel Cao Yanzong, a research fellow at the institute, dismissed the ultimate effectiveness of the F-16V planes, given China's overwhelming air superiority and arsenal of short-to medium-range missiles.

The sale would be of little use "beyond making profits for American arms makers, while further undermining relations between China and the US, and China and Taiwan", said Col Cao.

China fiercely opposes all arms sales to Taiwan, but has specifically objected to advanced fighter jets such as the F-16V.

The jet's Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is compatible with F-35 stealth fighters operated by the US Air Force, Navy and Marines.

The US is also installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan's existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.

The Trump administration informed Congress last week that it plans to sell Taiwan 66 of the planes, and the US State Department approved the sale this week.


The deal will now go before Congress, where Taiwan enjoys strong bipartisan support.

Despite a lack of formal diplomatic ties, US law requires Washington to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Taiwan is a democratically governed island that broke away from the Communist Party-ruled mainland during a civil war in 1949.

China has been stepping up military, diplomatic and economic pressure against the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to embrace Beijing's "one-China principle" that regards Taiwan as Chinese territory.

A semi-annual Defence Ministry report issued last month stated that China "has the firm resolve and the ability" to take control of Taiwan.

"We make no promise to renounce the use of force, and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures," the report said.

Titled China's National Defence In The New Era, the report pointed to specific intimidation tactics cited by many as partial justification for strengthening Taiwan's defences.

"Aiming at safeguarding national unity, China's armed forces strengthen military preparedness with emphasis on the sea," the report said. "By sailing ships and flying aircraft around Taiwan, the armed forces send a stern warning to the 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces."

Meanwhile, a US military ship sailed through the Taiwan Strait yesterday, the island's Defence Ministry said, which will likely further irk Beijing in the wake of the arms sales.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2019, with the headline 'China will not sit idly by, warns general'. Subscribe