THE LATEST PACKAGE of US military kit that the Biden administration has approved for sale to Taiwan has drawn predictable condemnation from China.
The $1.1 billion deal includes a radar warning system to track incoming strikes and Harpoon anti-ship and Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles, Taipei’s need for which was demonstrated by the People’s Liberation Army’s live-fire exercises following the visit to the island last month by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A further round of live-fire drills followed the mid-month visit to the island by a separate group of US lawmakers.
The Chinese embassy in Washington told the United States to rip up a deal that it said ‘severely jeopardises’ relations and promised ‘necessary countermeasures.
The US arms sale still has to be approved by the US Congress, but the votes are sure to be there. US legislators have become increasingly pro-Taiwan and anti-Beijing.
The US administration says the deal is part of continuing efforts to modernise Taiwan’s armed forces, as it is presenting most of its Taiwan policy as routine in counterpoint to Beijing’s belligerence.
Similarly, US officials say they will soon start discussions on a US-Taiwan trade agreement to be concluded by next year. That has already drawn warnings from Beijing not to include anything that implies Taiwanese sovereignty.
The missile sales appear to be catch-up, fulfilling orders placed by Taiwan in the past that went unfulfilled as the United States sent weaponry to Ukraine. Nonetheless, there is no masking that ‘a new normal’ now applies to US-China relations.
With Beijing increasing its ‘grey zone’ activity — somewhere between civilian and military operations — the risks of escalation are growing.
Last week, Taiwan shot down a Chinese drone in Taiwanese airspace for the first time. The downed quadcopter (of the sort that anyone can buy on Alibaba; it was not an unmanned military aircraft) was one of several that have been flying over the Taiwan-controlled islands a few kilometres off the mainland coast for the past month.
These have likely been on intelligence-gathering missions. An ulterior motive may have been to have one shot down to allow Beijing to portray itself as the victim of aggression by foreign forces.
The sturm and drang over the arms deal have let another Biden administration decision announced at the end of the week fly under the radar. The United States will keep in place Trump-era tariffs on Chinese imports.