U.S. defense secretary reaffirms commitment to sell arms to Taiwan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. (CNA)

WASHINGTON (CNA) — The United States will live up to its commitment to Taiwan by selling it weapons and holding exercises in the region as China becomes more aggressive and assertive toward the island, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday.

“The PLA’s (China’s People’s Liberation Army’s) large scale exercise to simulate the seizure of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Island is a destabilizing activity that significantly increases the risk of miscalculation,” Esper said during a speech given to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

With regard to Taiwan, “we will continue to conduct arms sales. We will continue to conduct freedom of navigation operations, and that includes in the Taiwan Strait,” Esper said in the discussions on U.S. policies on the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region.

According to Esper, the U.S.’s policies are consistent with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and those established by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s administration of conditioning arms sales to Taiwan based on the threats posed by China.

In the nearly hour-long video conference with the IISS, Esper expressed the U.S.’s concerns about the PLA’s ongoing “aggressive behavior in the East and South China Seas.”

He also described Beijing’s claims and actions in the South China Sea as bullying Southeast Asian countries involved the maritime dispute.

Despite the friction, however, the U.S. is still “committed to a constructive and results-oriented relationship with China and within our defense relationship to open lines of communication and risk reduction,” Esper said.