Already strained relations between Washington and Beijing are about to hit a rough patch, Amid the on-going trade war, the Pentagon announced a $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, and an even bigger weapons deal is expected later this summer.
No issue is more sensitive for China than what it regards as the renegade province of Taiwan – an island whose freedom is underwritten by the United States.
While the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Taipei when it recognized Beijing, Washington insists that unification cannot be achieved by force and continues to sell Taiwan what it defines as defensive weapons.
The package announced this week includes 108 top of the line Abrams tanks plus 250 Stingers – shoulder fired missiles effective against low flying aircraft. The Pentagon statement said these weapons would not alter the basic military balance and China’s relatively pro-forma objections suggest it agrees. That will not apply to the forthcoming sale of 66 F-16 fighters.
China has long said that new fighters for Taiwan would be a “red line.” It’s unclear what that means, but Presidents Bush and Obama resisted Taiwanese requests. President Trump has been much more receptive.
A recent article in Foreign Policy quoted analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal group, who said both parties in Washington largely agree that it’s time to be more assertive with China, and described the forthcoming F-16 sale as “geopolitics with wings.”
This week, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen heads across the Pacific to visit Taiwan’s allies in the Caribbean. She will also spend four days in the US, which is sure to prompt more protests from Beijing.