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Taiwan confirms request for US tanks, missiles

June 6, 2019

Taiwan's proposed purchase of billions of dollars' worth of US arms has prompted a speedy response from China. Beijing said more American weapons in Taiwan could hurt US-China ties and the security of the Taiwan Strait.

Blast from an M1A2 Abrams tank
Image: picture-alliance/Newscom/J. Farmer

The potential sale by the United States, Taiwan's main arms supplier, includes more than a hundred tanks, along with anti-tank and Stinger missiles.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry confirmed the request on Thursday, and in a speech, President Tsai Ing-wen said, "We will keep on strengthening our self-defense capabilities (and) will also keep on being a contributor to regional peace."

The list of weaponry includes:

  • 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2 Abrams tanks worth around $2 billion (€1.7 billion)
  • 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles worth $200 million
  • 409 Javelin anti-tank missiles
  • 250 Stinger portable air defense systems.

There are also reports that Taiwan may be seeking to buy 66 more F-16 fighter jets.

The US Congress, which has to approve the deal, has been sent an informal notification, according to Reuters news agency. 

Military exercises in Taiwan in May
Military exercises in Taiwan in MayImage: Reuters/T. Siu

Risking US-China relations

The Chinese government, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory, was quick to respond, warning the sales could "seriously damage" relations with the United States.

"We urge the US to fully understand the high sensitivity of the issue of arms sales to Taiwan," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Thursday. "We are severely concerned about the US move and are firmly against US arms sales to Taiwan."

While the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China, it pledged under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to assist with the island's self-defense. US Navy vessels regularly sail through the Taiwan Strait on "freedom of navigation patrols," despite objections from Beijing.

President Tsai Ing-wen during 2018 naval exercises northeast of Taiwan
President Tsai Ing-wen during 2018 naval exercises northeast of TaiwanImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Ying-ying

US-China trade war

The announcement of the potential sale comes as the US and China are in the middle of a trade war

Disputes over tariffs have extended to Washington's blacklisting of telecom giant Huawei and Beijing drawing up an "unreliable entities list" of companies and individuals deemed potentially damaging to Chinese companies.

US President Donald Trump's administration has been seeking to promote the development of the US arms industry and last year announced changes to its export policy to expand sales to allies. 

Already the world's largest arms exporter, the US increased its share of total global exports to 36% in 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 

"The USA has further solidified its position as the world's leading arms supplier," SIPRI's Aude Fleurant said. "The USA exported arms to at least 98 countries in the past five years."

jm/sms (Reuters, AP)

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