With the trade war between the US and China seemingly escalating every single day, the US has decided to provoke the not-so-sleeping dragon, and according to Reuters is pursuing the sale of more than $2 billion worth of tanks and weapons to Taiwan in a move that is sure to infuriate China further.
While an official statement has not been made, an informal notification of the proposed sale has been sent to the U.S. Congress, four Reuters sources said. The proposed sale includes 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2 Abrams tanks worth around $2 billion as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft munitions, as Taiwan “has been interested in refreshing its existing U.S.-made battle tank inventory which includes M60 Patton tanks.”
The congressional notifications also included a variety of anti-tank munitions including 409 Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp-made Javelin missiles worth as much as $129 million, two of the Reuters sources said. In addition, the notifications included 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles worth as much as $299 million; there were also 250 stinger missiles worth as much as $223 million in the notification. Stingers are often used in man-portable anti-aircraft weapons systems
For decades, the United States has been the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control. Back in January, in a landmark speech, China’s president Xi said that China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan to heel – but that peaceful “reunification” would be Beijing’s goal. Xi has made resolving the “Taiwan issue” a priority.
Several months later, in March, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that the United States was responding positively to Taipei’s requests for new arms sales to bolster its defenses in the face of pressure from China. The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.
Last year, the Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of US arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.
Taking advantage of this expanded authority, last week the Pentagon announced it would sell 34 Boeing ScanEagle drones, to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for $47 million.
The drones would afford greater intelligence gathering capabilities, allowing close observation and potentially curbing Chinese activity in the region. As a reminder, China has claimed almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lashes out at the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.
The proposed sale comes at a perilously sensitive moment: last weekend, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe warned the United States not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the meeting that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia.
Confirming that, a sale of more than $2 billion in weapons to Taiwan would be seen as a provocation to China’s national interest in the region, and a clear signal that the gloves are now off when it comes to geopolitical claims, potentially resulting in a worrisome escalation of a war which has so far been confined to the sphere of trade.