China concern after Taiwan confirms US arms purchase request

Beijing urges Washington to stop arms sales to the island after Taipei confirms request for tanks, air defense systems.

    Taiwan's defence ministry says it has submitted a letter of request for 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, among others [File: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters]
    Taiwan's defence ministry says it has submitted a letter of request for 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, among others [File: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters]

    China has expressed serious concern after Taiwan confirmed a request to purchase more than 100 tanks, as well as air defence and anti-tank missile systems, from the United States

    The confirmation on Thursday by Taiwan's defence ministry came after reports said the US could soon give the green light to sales of tanks and weapons to Taiwan worth more than $2bn.

    In a statement, the ministry said it had submitted a letter of request for 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, 1,240 TOW anti-armour missiles, 409 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 250 Stinger man-portable air defence systems.

    The request was proceeding "as normal", it said. It was not clear when the official request had been issued, after which the US has 120 days to respond.

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    Reports have also said Taiwan was seeking 66 additional F-16 fighter jets in the most advanced "V'' configuration.

    Later on Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry said it was seriously concerned about US arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

    Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, told a daily news briefing in Beijing that China called on the US to stop arms sales to Taiwan to avoid harming bilateral ties.

    The developments come as China and the US are engaged in an increasingly acrimonious battle over trade and technology. Washington has imposed up to 25 percent tariffs on $250bn in imports from China and is preparing to increase import duties on another $300bn.

    Beijing has responded by imposing tariffs on $60bn worth of US products, which went into effect on June 1.

    Significant upgrades

    US arms sales to the self-ruled island comply with the 40-year-old US Taiwan Relations Act and are based on an assessment of the island's defence needs. However, such moves have angered Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of China's territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

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    The M1 Abrams would mark a significant upgrade from the ageing tanks currently used by Taiwan's army now uses, while the TOW and Javelin systems would upgrade the island's ability to repulse an attempt by China to land tanks and troops from across the 160km-wide Taiwan Strait.

    The Stingers meanwhile could help strengthen Taiwan's defences against China, which has more than 1,000 advanced fighter aircraft and 1,500 accurate missiles pointing at the island.

    Taiwan, which split from China amid a civil war in 1949, has had no formal diplomatic ties with the US since Washington recognised Beijing in 1979. However, US law requires it to take threats to the island seriously and to "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability".

    Last month, senior national security officials from Taiwan and the US held their first meeting in four decades with the aim of deepening cooperation, according to Taipei.

    China objects to all military and official contacts between the two and says arms sales to the island constitute both interference in its internal affairs and a betrayal of earlier commitments made by Washington to Beijing.

    President Tsai Ing-wen has made beefing up Taiwan's armed forces a central task of her administration amid increasing Chinese military threats and a campaign to increase the island's diplomatic isolation and weaken its economy.

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    While China's military spending and numbers of ships, planes and missiles vastly outstrip those of Taiwan, the island is basing its defence on geographical factors and asymmetrical warfare, in which a weaker opponent can hold off a stronger one by pinpointing weaknesses and using specialised weaponry and tactics.

    Tsai has also pushed to revamp the island's domestic arms industry and last month inaugurated a shipyard to build at least eight diesel-electric submarines. Taiwan currently operates just four aged submarines and pressure from China has prevented it from buying more abroad.

    Tsai said on Thursday that Taiwan would continue to boost its self-defence capabilities and remain committed to regional stability and peace.

    "In recent years, the international community has increased its support for Taiwan," Tsai told reporters in Taipei.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies