China’s patience is wearing thin over US arms sale to Taiwan

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    A child runs past a torpedo on display outside the Taiwan Armed Forces Museum in Taipei in this Jan. 30 file photo. The Obama administration notified Congress on January 29 of its first proposed arms sales to Taiwan, a potential $6.4 billion package bound to add to rising U.S.-China strains over trade and cyber security.
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China has apparently noticed the tiny $6.4 billion military equipment deal the US recently inked with Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, it’s not happy about it. The Pentagon informed Congress about the transaction knowing full well it would upset the Chinese government and could spur retaliation.

From The Washington Post:

“‘The U.S. side bears full responsibility for the current difficulties in exchanges between the Chinese and U.S. militaries,’ [Defense Ministry spokesman] Huang [Xueping] said.

“Huang’s comments follow the publication this week of a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report stating that Taiwan’s air defenses against China were likely inadequate.

“Many observers saw the study as justification for the possible sale of advanced fighter jets to the self-governing island democracy. China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has vowed to conquer it by force if necessary.

“Such U.S. reports are an outgrowth of a law – passed 30 years ago when Washington cut ties with the island to establish relations with Beijing – requiring the United States to ensure Taiwan has an adequate defense against Chinese threats.

“China resents all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, seeing them as interference in its internal affairs. In response to the latest sale, Beijing, for the first time, also threatened commercial retaliation against the aerospace companies that make the weapons offered in the latest deal.”

The deal includes helicopters, radar, missiles, anti-mine ships, and other equipment, but excludes the F-16 jet fighter aircraft made by Lockheed Martin that Taiwan had also requested. How has China reacted in the past over similar sales?

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According to Voice of America:

“Past U.S. arms sales to the island have resulted in retaliation, such as the suspension of military exchanges.  China’s state-run media has hinted there will a strong retaliation this time, quoting hard-line officials as saying China should not put up with continued American military support for Taiwan. 

“The United States has a treaty commitment to help the island maintain its defenses, and wants Taiwan and China to settle their differences peacefully.”

From the US perspective, this deal falls under the agreement it signed to make certain Taiwan stays sufficiently defended from China’s threat of force. That’s not good enough for China which, in threatening commercial retaliation, seems apt to hit the US where it’s currently softest. 

China and the US have strong economic and political divisions on this military equipment sale. It’s one of the most evident strains between two nations in an otherwise unhealthy, but codependent, relationship. China may or may not step up the intensity of its retaliation on this particular sale, but, based on today’s comments, the day when China chooses to stand up to the US and bare its teeth seems that much nearer.

For more details see Voice of America’s article on the US bracing for Chinese reaction to the arms sale. Also, read The Washington Post’s coverage of China warning the US over Taiwan arms sales.

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