US' proposed $2.7b sale of weapons to Taiwan angers China

Taiwanese Soldiers on a CM11 battle tank take part in a combat drill in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on May 29, 2019.
Taiwanese Soldiers on a CM11 battle tank take part in a combat drill in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on May 29, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • The United States is pursuing the sale of more than US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) worth of tanks and weapons to Taiwan, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

This has sparked anger from Beijing, which is already involved in an escalating trade war with Washington.

An informal notification of the proposed sale has been sent to the US Congress, the four sources said on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to speak about the possible deal.

The potential sale included 108 General Dynamics M1A2 Abrams tanks worth around US$2 billion, as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft munitions, three of the sources said.

Taiwan has been interested in refreshing its existing US-made battle tank inventory, which includes M60 Patton tanks.

The US is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control.

A spokesman for the State Department, which oversees foreign military sales, said the US government does not comment on or confirm potential or pending arms sales or transfers before they have been formally notified to Congress.

 
 

The congressional notifications included a variety of anti-tank munitions, including 409 Raytheon and Lockheed Martin-made Javelin missiles worth as much as US$129 million, two of the sources said.

The notifications also included 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles worth as much as US$299 million, one of the sources said.

There were also 250 stinger missiles worth as much as US$223 million in the notification, the source said. Stingers are often used in portable anti-aircraft weapons systems.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry confirmed it had requested those weapons and that the request was proceeding normally.

The US commitment to providing Taiwan with the weapons to defend itself helps Taiwan's military to raise its combat abilities, consolidates the Taiwan-US security partnership and ensures Taiwan's security, the ministry said in a statement.

The Chinese government condemned the planned sale. "We are severely concerned about the US move and are firmly against US arms sales to Taiwan," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

China urges the US to stop arms sales to Taiwan and prudently deal with issues relating to Taiwan, to prevent harm to bilateral relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, he added.

US President Donald Trump's administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of the US' arms export policy last year aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defence industry and create jobs at home.

 
 

Mr Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro was one of the administration's architects of that policy.

Mr Navarro, a China hawk, wrote about the possible sale of tanks to Taiwan in a March opinion column in The New York Times, ahead of a presidential trip to the Lima, Ohio, plant where they are made.

China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned the US at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last weekend not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the meeting that the US would no longer "tiptoe" around China's behaviour in Asia.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry, responding to the Reuters report of the planned new arms sale, said Mr Wei's "threatening" comments and recent Chinese military drills near Taiwan showed the importance of its need to strengthen its defensive abilities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2019, with the headline 'US' proposed $2.7b sale of weapons to Taiwan angers China'. Print Edition | Subscribe