US$330 million arms sale to Taiwan will go ahead, says US Congress

  • The sale, mainly of aircraft parts, will be the second military deal for Taipei in less than 18 months under the Trump administration
PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 12:55am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 3:35am

A planned US$330 million arms sale to Taiwan has won de facto Congressional approval, clearing the way for the US State State Department to complete the agreement – and potentially upsetting Beijing.

The sale passed through a 30-day review process that expired at midnight on Wednesday night without triggering any Congressional disapproval. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee had joint authority to halt the sale.

The deal marks the second US arms sale to Taiwan in less than 18 months under US President Donald Trump. The administration approved an initial US$1.4 billion deal in June 2017, in a show of support and deepening defence ties between Washington and Taipei.

The new sale covers spare parts for “F-16, C-130, Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), all other aircraft systems and subsystems, an other related elements of logistics and program support”, according to the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

The approval came days after two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait and also ahead of a US-Taiwan defence industry conference. Scheduled to begin on Monday in Annapolis, Maryland, the conference is expected to include Taiwan’s deputy defence minister Chang Guan-chung as well as US government representatives.

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The annual event is “in a series of ongoing conferences addressing the future of US defence cooperation with Taiwan, the defence procurement process and Taiwan’s defence and national security needs”, the organising US-Taiwan Business Council said in an introduction.

China strongly opposes any US arms sales and official contact with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a wayward province to be unified with the mainland by force if necessary. The US has no formal diplomatic relations with the self-ruled island but maintains informal ties and is its sole arms supplier.

At the Xiangshan security forum in Beijing on Thursday, Wei Fenghe, the Chinese defence minister, vowed not to cede “a single inch” of territory.

“China is the only big nation in the world that is not unified … And the Chinese military has a heavy responsibility to not let a single inch of its territory be lost,” Wei said. “If there is anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will take action.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang last week also urged the US “to correct its mistakes [and] stop any official contact and military ties with, and arms sales to, the Taiwan region”.

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The Pentagon, when it promoted the sale in September, said the deal would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient, which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region”.

It added that “the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.

Over the past 10 years, Washington had denied many of Taipei’s requests for new weapons systems and delayed others, the Financial Times reported, while the Trump administration is returning to a process where arms procurement requests from Taipei are reviewed more quickly.

The practices of the past decade have “done tremendous damage”, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, was quoted by the FT as saying. “They allowed China too much involvement in the process, and added cost to Taiwan’s ability to keep a credible defence.”

This month, Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs, was quoted by Taiwan’s Central News Agency as saying that the US is moving towards a “more normal foreign military sales relationship” with Taiwan.

Douglas Paal, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei, from 2002 to 2006, agreed that US arms sales to Taiwan “should be made routine”.

Beijing tells US to cancel US$330 million Taiwan arms deal

“The idea was to make them more a matter of what is needed for [Taiwan’s] defence and security,” Paal said, “rather than how will it affect an upcoming meeting with China or some other event or contingency. If this process is now routinised, I applaud the decision.”

However, Paal, now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added that “Taiwan’s own reluctance to commit to serious weapons programmes due to budgetary or bureaucratic and political considerations is more likely in my view to have added cost to a credible defence”.

Taiwan has continuously expressed a desire to acquire more advanced American weapons. Its defence ministry has said it requires the M1A2 Abrams battle tanks and plans to acquire “new fighters capable of vertical or short take-off and landing and having stealth characteristics”.