Washington, Taipei kick off Security Cooperation Month

In this May 30, 2019, file photo, the first team of Taiwan artillerywomen poses for the press during the annual Han Kuang exercises in Pingtung County, Southern Taiwan. Taiwan has confirmed Thursday, June 6, 2019, that it has asked to purchase more than 100 U.S. tanks, along with air defense and anti-tank missile systems in a major potential arms sale that could worsen frictions between Washington and Beijing. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying, File)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) marks its Security Cooperation Month with Taiwan in August as part of a year-long campaign celebrating 40 years of U.S.-Taiwan friendship.

The move comes as the U.S. and Taiwan have engaged in vital arms deals in recent months amid continuous threats from China toward Taiwan.

“For decades, the United States and Taiwan have enjoyed a deep and robust security cooperation relationship,” AIT said in a statement Thursday, adding that the AIT@40 Security Cooperation Month is a “recognition of the multifaceted nature of the security cooperation activities that benefit both Taiwan and the United States.”

Taiwan and the United States are currently celebrating 40 years since the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) on April 10, 1979, retroactive until Jan. 1 of that same year, when Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

The TRA has become a cornerstone of Taiwan-U.S. relations, which are non-diplomatic but considered substantial. In line with the AIT@40 celebration, each month of 2019 features a different theme to highlight the multifaceted Taiwan-U.S. partnership.

AIT will kick off a series of events to underscore the strong security cooperation between the two sides with a screening of the documentary titled “The Lost Black Cats” Aug. 5, which tells the story of U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation even before the enactment of the TRA.

The Black Cats (黑貓中隊), formally known as the 35th Squadron, was a squadron of the Republic of China Air Force that flew U-2 surveillance planes to gather intelligence on mainland China between 1961 and 1974. Twelve of the planes were shot down and 10 pilots were killed in more than 200 missions.

Other activities will include a policy address on security cooperation by AIT Director Brent Christensen at an exhibition that will open in Taoyuan Aug. 14 titled “Strong Foundation, Bright Future: AIT@40, U.S.-Taiwan Relations Since 1979.”

The following day, Christensen will deliver another speech at the opening ceremony of the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition in Taipei.

“Throughout the month, Director Christensen and AIT staff will also participate in a variety of events across Taiwan to celebrate the wide-ranging security cooperation relationship that spans far beyond arms sales and includes civilian-led security efforts, civil-military engagement, military exchanges and defense industry cooperation,” AIT said.

The celebration of the Security Cooperation Month comes amid a series of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, some of which have already been concluded, while others are still being processed by the U.S. side.

On July 8, the U.S. State Department announced an arms package to Taiwan worth US$2.22 billion that includes 108 M1A2T Abrams Tanks and relevant equipment and support, 250 Block I-92F MANPAD Stinger missiles, and four Block I-92 MANPAD Stinger Fly-to-Buy missiles and related equipment.

Currently being assessed by the U.S. is Taiwan’s plan to procure 66 F-16V fighter jets, which was feared stalled by some analysts due to Washington’s hesitation at a time of U.S.-China negotiations on their trade dispute.

It was widely expected that the U.S. Department of Defense would inform Congress regarding the sale of the F-16Vs before the end of July. However, this did not happen. Defense analyst F.S. Mei (梅復興) said on his Facebook page that with the U.S. Congress having already gone into recess, the sale of the F-16Vs can only be tackled in September at the earliest, when the next Congress session begins.

AIT spokeswoman Amanda Mansour said AIT only comments on arms sales after they have been notified to Congress.

In recent years, China has increased its military activity, which is seen by many as aimed at Taiwan, including incidents in which People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes have crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, and the passage by Chinese battleships through the Taiwan Strait.

Currently, the PLA is holding simultaneous exercises from July 28 to Aug. 1, near the Zhoushan Islands, 400 kilometers north of Taiwan, and Dongshan Island, 55 km southwest of Taiwan’s outlying Kinmen islands. The two island groups are considered important theaters of operation in the event of Beijing deciding to attack Taiwan.

By Emerson Lim