China urges US to cancel $3b arms sale to Taiwan

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A military band conductor rehearses the band before the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) — China has urged the United States to immediately cancel the potential sale of US$2.2 billion (S$3 billion) in weapons to Taiwan that include tanks, anti-tank missiles and other military hardware.

The U.S. State Department’s decision on Monday to green-light the latest arms package for the island seriously violates the “one China” principle and “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular briefing in Beijing yesterday.

Geng said that China has lodged formal complaints through diplomatic channels and expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the arms deal.

“China urges the US to… immediately cancel the planned arms sale and stop military relations with Taipei to avoid damaging Sino-US relations and harming peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Mr Geng added.

The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) had earlier said that the arms deal included 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, 250 Stinger portable anti-aircraft missiles and related equipment and support.

The proposed package would “contribute to the modernisation of the recipient’s main battle tank fleet, enhancing its ability to meet current and future regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defence”, the DSCA said.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office expressed “sincere gratitude” to the U.S. government for the arms sale.

China has repeatedly registered its opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last month that Beijing would “fight at all costs” any attempts to split Taiwan from the mainland.

RESOLUTE OPPOSITION

China has significantly stepped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taipei since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party refuses to acknowledge that the island is part of “one China”.

The pressure has included more frequent military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait in recent months.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province to be “reunified” by force, if necessary.

Nationalistic Chinese tabloid Global Times yesterday mocked Taipei for its latest arms purchase, which it said did not meaningfully alter the military balance in the Taiwan Strait, which overwhelmingly is in favour of Beijing.

“The purchase of US armaments has already lost physical significance, but what Taipei wants is the psychological effect,” it said in an editorial.

Sino-US experts said Beijing is likely to see the latest arms deal as a provocation, and might be planning retaliatory measures.

While the US’ latest weapons sale package to Taiwan is nowhere near the biggest historically, it is the fourth and largest one assembled by the Trump administration.

“China-US relations are very delicate right now, and military ties are not very good despite Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and (Acting US Defence Secretary) Patrick Shanahan’s meeting last month and their agreement to maintain communication,” said Professor Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University.

“Beijing is likely to respond, although it is difficult to say how.”