US State Dept approves $1.8bn in potential arms sales to Taiwan

US State Dept approves $1.8bn in potential arms sales to Taiwan

The US State Department has approved the potential sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery that could have a total value of $1.8bn, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid rising tension over the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.

Among other weapons systems, Wednesday’s formal notifications to Congress by the State Department were for 11 truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp called a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), for an estimated cost of $436.1m.

The notifications also covered 135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) Missiles and related equipment made by Boeing, for an estimated $1.008bn, and six MS-110 Recce external sensor pods made by Collins Aerospace for jets, at an estimated cost of $367.2m.

A pilot of an F-16 fighter jet attends a military drill at Zhi-Hang Air Base in Taitung, Taiwan [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]Further congressional notifications are expected to follow, including drones made by General Atomics and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles, made by Boeing, to serve as coastal defence cruise missiles.

Sources told Reuters news agency the 100 cruise missiles stations and 400 missiles would have a cost of about $2bn.

The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, but there is broad bipartisan support for the defence of Taiwan.

The defence and foreign ministries in Taiwan welcomed the news, saying the weapons would help improve defensive capabilities.

“This arms sale shows that the United States attaches great importance to the strategic position of the Indo-Pacific region and the Taiwan Strait, and is actively assisting our country in strengthening our overall defence capabilities,” Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said.

China ire

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to take back the island. Washington, meanwhile, sees Taiwan an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but China’s foreign ministry said last week that US arms sales to Taiwan severely damaged China’s sovereignty and security interests.

It urged Washington to cancel the planned sales and warned that China would “make a legitimate and necessary response according to how the situation develops”.

The US administration has stepped up pressure on Beijing in the run-up to the November 3 US presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough stance against China a central theme of his campaign for a second term.

Washington has been eager to see Taiwan bolster its defensive capabilities in the face of increasingly assertive moves from Beijing, which has been ratcheting up pressure on the island ever since President Tsai Ing-wen was first elected in 2016.

It has stepped up its activities since she was re-elected in a landslide in January, with the Ministry of National Defense regularly detailing the activities of the Chinese airforce close to the island. On Wednesday, it said a Y-8 aircraft had been tracked to the south of the island.

“The quality of the three programs notified today clearly reflects the urgency of continued Taiwan force modernization to counteract China’s hegemonic behavior,” US-Taiwan Business Council President Rupert Hammond-Chambers said in a statement. “Each program adds an important deterrent capability that should further complicate any consideration by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to threaten or to use force to coerce Taiwan into a political union.”

Tsai said earlier this month that Taiwan would continue to modernise the island’s defence capabilities and enhance its capacity for asymmetric warfare to “deal with military expansion and provocation from the other side of the Taiwan Strait”. Asymmetric warfare is designed to make any Chinese attack difficult and costly, for example, with smart mines and portable missiles.

Taiwan’s defence ministry told parliament earlier this month that the military had launched aircraft to intercept Chinese planes more than twice as often in the first nine months of this year than it had in the whole of 2019.