US, China tensions escalate over arms sales to Taiwan


Taiwan confirmed Thursday it has asked to purchase more than 100 tanks, along with air defense and anti-tank missile systems from the U.S. in a major potential arms sale that could worsen frictions between Washington and Beijing.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said in a statement it has submitted a letter of request for 108 cutting-edge M1A2 Abrams tanks, 1,240 TOW anti-armor missiles, 409 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 250 Stinger man-portable air defense systems. The request is proceeding “as normal,” it said. It wasn’t clear when the official request had been issued, after which the U.S. has 120 days to respond. Reports have also said Taiwan is seeking 66 additional F-16 fighter jets in the most advanced “V'” configuration.

China’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday it is seriously concerned about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, after a source told Reuters that Washington was planning a $2 billion weapons sale to the island China claims as its own. China urges the U.S. to stop arms sales to Taiwan to avoid harming bilateral relations, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

The U.S. is the main supplier of defensive weapons to Taiwan, which China considers its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary. China has for years opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, but has taken little concrete action in response to them. In April of this year, the U.S. State Department approved the sale to Taiwan of a pilot training program and maintenance and logistics support for Taiwan air force F-16 fighters based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona at an estimated cost of $500 million. In 2018, the U.S. State Department approved the sale to Taiwan of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million. In 2017, the U.S. decided to sell Taiwan $1.42 billion in arms, the first such sale under the administration of President Donald Trump. China said the decision contradicted a “consensus” President Xi Jinping reached with Trump in talks in April in Florida.

Taiwan, which split from China amid civil war in 1949, has had no formal diplomatic ties with the U.S. since Washington recognized Beijing in 1979. In 2016, President Trump received a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, thus becoming the first U.S. president to speak to a Taiwanese leader in decades.

The announcement came as the U.S. and China are engaged in an increasingly acrimonious battle over trade and technology. The Trump administration has imposed up to 25% tariffs on $250 billion in imports from China and is preparing to increase import duties on another $300 billion. Beijing has responded by imposing tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. products, which went into effect Saturday. It also retaliated against the U.S. blacklisting of Chinese technology giant Huawei by announcing Friday that it will establish its own list of “unreliable entities” consisting of foreign businesses, corporations and individuals. No details have been given.