China-US relations

Organisers play down significance of US-Taiwan arms sale forum

US official says event in Taiwan not equivalent to defence industry conference that has been held annually by two sides in America for well over a decade

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 11:24pm

The organisers of an event to be held in Taipei for Taiwan and the United States to discuss arms sales say they have not committed to hold the meeting on an annual basis – a move seen by analysts as an attempt to play down the significance of the forum due to concerns over a possible backlash from Beijing.

A US-Taiwan defence industry conference has been held in the United States annually over the past 16 years, but both sides agreed that from 2018 they would take turns to host the event and the conference would now take place twice a year, a Taiwanese military source has previously told the South China Morning Post.

The US-Taiwan Business Council has now confirmed to the Post that it was working with the Taiwan Defence Industry Development Association for “a day seminar/forum and lunch keynote” possibly in early May to discuss defence industry cooperation between the United States and Taiwan.

But the meeting was not equivalent to the annual conference held in the US, said Lotta Danielsson, vice-president of the council in an email.

“The annual US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference will be held in the US – as it has been for the last 16 years – probably in late October,” she said.

US risks retaliation with defence talks on Taiwan, Chinese analysts warn

Danielsson said the council has not committed to making the Taiwan seminar an annual event, but “we look forward to finding ways to cooperate with [the Taiwan defence association] on the spring event, and potentially on other events and activities in the future”.

Taiwanese analysts said regardless of whether the Taiwan seminar was equivalent to the US conference or not, the event was highly significant in that it would help promote Taiwan’s defence industry to the US.

Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the US-Taiwan Business Council appeared to want to play down the significance of the planned event in Taiwan, probably due to concerns about antagonising China’s government. Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway Chinese province, has repeatedly warned the US and other countries against helping the island to arm itself.

“The Taiwan seminar is significant in the sense that it will not only facilitate exchanges between prominent US arms suppliers and local manufacturers, but will also serve as another important channel for officials from the two sides to discuss the kinds of weapons Taiwan should buy or build to try to counter the military balance now heavily tilting towards China,” he said.

It is not known whether the US will send senior defence or State Department officials to attend the Taiwan event, as it has done at previous meetings in the US, but prominent US arms suppliers, including Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, are expected to send representatives to Taiwan, according to Wang.

US arms sales a morale booster for Taiwan, says Tsai Ing-wen

Representatives of Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and 10 other US arms suppliers joined a delegation organised by the US-Taiwan Business Council to visit Taiwan last month and met with President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Senior military officials and experts, including those from Taiwan’s Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, are also expected to attend the planned seminar, as they have at previous conferences held in the US.