Mainland enjoys huge military edge despite jet sales, says expert
China has vowed to impose sanctions on US firms participating in arms sales to Taiwan after the US State Department announced that the Trump administration had given formal approval for the sale of fighter jets and other military aircraft to the island worth $8 billion.
The Trump administration’s approval of another major arms sales to Taiwan, which includes 66 F-16 fighter jets, could be the heaviest-ever test of China-US relations, observers said on Wednesday.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, “US arms sales to Taiwan severely violate international law and the basic principles of international relationships, the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiqués, especially the August 17 communiqué.”
China firmly opposes the arms sales which “constitutes severe interference in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests,” Geng said.
“China urges the US to fully recognize the harmful nature of the arms sales to Taiwan, immediately cancel the planned arms sales, stop selling weapons and end military contact with Taiwan,” said Geng, warning that “otherwise, the US will have to bear all the consequences.”
CNN reported Wednesday that the weapons sales received strong bipartisan backing in Congress. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the sale of the F-16s “is consistent with the arrangements, the historical relationship between the US and China, [and] our actions are consistent with past US policy. We are simply following through on the commitments we’ve made to all of the parties.”
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which oversees US foreign military sales, said in a statement that the State Department has made a determination approving a possible foreign military sale to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office for 66 F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft and related equipment – including F-110 General Electric engines – and support for an estimated cost of $8 billion. The DSCA delivered the required certification notifying Congress of the possible sale on Tuesday.
The contentious arms sales to Taiwan shows a lack of basic respect for China’s sovereignty, said Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University’s Institute of International Relations in Beijing.
In July, the US also approved an arms sale to Taiwan worth $2.22 billion, including 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger portable surface-to-air missiles, CNN reported.
After the US approved the tank and missile sales in July, China conducted military exercises in waters near the island of Taiwan. China also announced sanctions on US enterprises participating in the sale.
“This round of US arms sales to Taiwan will likely impact China-US bilateral ties to the greatest extent ever, given the deteriorating state of trade relations, which were once considered the ballast of overall bilateral ties,” Li said.
Containing China’s development
Also on Tuesday, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) posted on its Facebook account pictures of its head officer Brent Christensen visiting Zuoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The US official took pictures of a Kee-Lung-class guided-missile destroyer and AAV7 Assault Amphibious Vehicle at the base, which were both acquired from the US.
AIT also said in the post that “The US sells Taiwan defense equipment in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act to maintain regional peace and stability. But did you know that US-Taiwan security cooperation includes much more?”
Such a provocative move is designed to further hype the Taiwan question, creating bad blood across the Taiwan Straits, to create an unstable atmosphere to hinder China’s development, Li said.
The US arms sales are sending dangerous signals to the island’s secessionist forces, and the ultimate goal is to contain China’s growth by creating cross-Straits tensions, said Li.
The US has become more willing to play the Taiwan card as ties with China worsen, since less common interests are at stake when doing so, Zhang Jiadong, deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times.
Stephen Bryen, who served as a senior staff director of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a signed article published in Asia Times on Monday that “while not finally decided, Taiwan will be training with the new F-16V aircraft in the US, on the west coast, and learn how to coordinate their F-16Vs with American F-35s.”
Bryen proposed that Taiwan’s “lack of the F-35 does not remove the F-35 from the game. In fact, the new F-16’s ability to work with US-run F-35s is an important advantage for Taiwan and changes the defense environment profoundly.”
Instead of Taiwan relying on a far-off, belated arrival of a US aircraft carrier to bail out a Taiwan under siege, US warplanes and Taiwan’s upgraded fleet could coordinate their operations in a crisis, he said.
Chinese military expert Wei Dongxu noted that “such coordinated training of F16Vs and F-35s is more symbolic than actual use.”
“In actual combat, the theoretical information sharing between the two types of fighter jets would become unrealizable, as the F-16, which is non-stealth, will be easily taken down by China’s J-20 over the horizon,” Wei said.
The Chinese mainland enjoys a vast military advantage over the island of Taiwan despite the island’s purchase of the 66 new fighter jets from the US, observers said.