US Arms Sales to Taiwan Indicate Tougher Attitude Towards China

US Arms Sales to Taiwan Indicate Tougher Attitude Towards China
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

The Trump administration has approved a series of arms sales to Taiwan, indicating closer U.S.-Taiwan relations as well as a tougher attitude towards China.

Reporting by Sydney Ko and Milo Hsieh

The United States recently approved weapon sales to Taiwan including M1A1 Abrams tanks, Stinger missiles, and US$8 billion worth of F-16V fighter jets, boosting Taiwan’s military strength.

Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affair, said the arms sales outline a major shift of U.S. attitude towards China. It insinuates the Trump administration’s willingness to challenge China’s increasingly aggressive show of power over maritime and air space in the Taiwan strait.

During last week’s lecture hosted jointly by the Institute of National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Gregson pointed to the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report released by the U.S. Department of Defense as a change of U.S. attitude towards China's aggression. The report referred to Taiwan as the "natural partners" of the U.S. like Singapore and New Zealand and reiterated the U.S. commitment to ensuring Taiwan remains secure and free from coercion.

“While the Chinese people aspire to free markets, justice, and the rule of law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), undermines the international system from within by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order,” the report stated.

Photo Credit: J.S. Sheu / INDSR
Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson speaks at a lecture hosted by Institute of National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on August 21, 2019.

Gregson said Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) had cited the unification between Taiwan and China as part of his grand scheme, the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People (中華民族的偉大復興), indicating the CCP has not given up the use of force to annex Taiwan.

Although the CCP’s military power has kept growing, Taiwan’s defensive advantages including difficult terrain, limited beaches, and unpredictable weather would make the Chinese invasion of Taiwan a “bloody, logistical nightmare” as a CNN report puts it.

“Taiwan must have the capacity to engage China on its own in a war,” Gregson said.

He added that Taiwan needs a strong deterrence capacity and the F-16V purchase is necessary to boost the Taiwanese air force strength.

Beijing has condemned the arms sale and said the U.S. would betray a 1982 promise to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan and it would threaten to damage regional stability.

Though Taiwan originally wanted to purchase the F-35 stealth fighter jets, it had reissued a request for the F-16V instead. The Lockheed Martin F-16V, which is the F-16 C/D Block 70 variation fitted with the APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radars, is one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world despite being criticized as overpriced and having outdated platforms.

The F-35, one of the newest platforms introduced by Lockheed, has not actually been combat-tested extensively. And when the weapon platform was developed, the U.S. did not invite Taiwan to participate in the program in fear of Beijing’s reaction. Additionally, Taiwan might have to wait 10 years for the F-35 deliver because of the long waiting list.

Gregson said the U.S. had hoped “to help China reintegrate into the global order” in the past and it might turn more liberal and democratic. “We were wrong,” Gregson said.

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