Taiwanese lawmakers welcome Trump nod for sale of US weapons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 12:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 1:01am

The administration of US President Donald Trump is expected to approve a new batch of sophisticated arms sales to Taiwan in a move that analysts say would help boost the island, but also cast uncertainties over their now stringent cross-strait relations.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was originally reported to have granted the sale of US$1 billion worth of arms that would include tactical mis­siles designed to destroy electronic transmissions coming from surface-to-air radar systems.

But somehow the Obama administration blocked the sale despite its approval from the State Department and Pentagon, according to a report by Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday.

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Quoting unnamed officials, the report said the Trump administration was now preparing to provide more and better defensive arms to Taiwan because it believed that scuttling the arms package was a setback to US and Taiwan efforts to bolster defences against a growing array of mainland missiles and other advanced weaponry deployed across the Taiwan Strait.

The action coincided with a controversial phone call in December between then-President-elect Trump and Taiwan Presi­dent Tsai Ing-wen, the report said.

Both Taiwan’s defence ministry and he Presidential Office declined to comment on the report.

But Taiwanese lawmakers welcomed the new deal, saying it would help boost Taiwan’s defence needs following the mainland’s military expansion and warning that it would retake the island by force if it declared independence.

“We welcome such a move, but it is more important for us to be able to decide our own weapons needs, not what the US wants to sell us,” Kuomintang legislator Lu Yu-ling said.

Her parliamentary colleague, Huang Wei-che of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, noted the mercenary character of Trump, saying the government must be cautious and know how to establish its own needs.

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Sun Yang-ming, vice-president of the National Policy Foundation, said it was understand
able for Obama to put the sales on hold, given the tension between Washington and Beijing late last year over the South China Sea dispute and the Tsai-Trump call.

“If Trump approves a new deal with better weapons, it certainly would help improve Taiwan’s defence capability, but the Tsai administration will have to consider the consequences as the deal would cast even more uncertainty over cross-strait relations,” he said.

Sun said even if the deal will make it past Trump, the new package would not be announced before Trump met President Xi Jinping next month.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan