GP Insights # 134, 24 August 2019
On 21 August 2019, China retaliated against USA's decision to sell 66 F-16 fighter jets worth of US$330 million to Taiwan which would boost the latter's defence apparatus. It is also said to cover spare parts for F-16, F-5 and C-130 fighter jets and, other aircraft carriers.
Following this, Beijing has reportedly threatened to impose sanctions on US-based companies involved in the sale further affecting the already strained bilateral cooperation between the duo. According to the Chinese foreign minister, Washington's decision has "severely interfered in China's internal affairs and undermined its sovereignty and security interests in the region."
What is the background?
The US has been committed to Taiwan militarily ever since the self-ruled country decided to severe from China and built its defences in 1979. The recent affirmative seal over the latest deal which is the second in a row since Trump came into power. This comes at a time when there is mounting tensions between the two giants, Washington and Beijing over trade and bilateral cooperation and follows a slow advance in trade war truce.
What does it mean?
First, time and again, China has seen Taiwan as a part of its stronghold and resents foreign influence over the self-ruled territory. Beijing further fears that continuous US-mediated arms support to Taiwan would disrupt the essential military balance of the region.
Second, according to statements from the US, it is quite evident from recent transactions that the US seeks to make Taiwan as a regular security systems partner which means that arms sales would become a more routine affair between the two every time Taiwan makes a request. Unlike earlier scenarios, when the US accumulated approvals of Taiwan's defence requests to ease down Chinese pressure, the new mode of immediate transactions ignores Beijing's concerns.
Third, as far as Taiwan is concerned, all its equipment was facing an urgent need for up-gradation and replacement. The country's airstrip and territory have been under constant threat from China's military expansion. The proposed weapon transfer will contribute to modernizing the former's fleet and enhance its security. Also, the prevailing US-China tensions might work in Taiwan's favour and let it leverage its existing relationship with the US and move closer to it. Regionally, on the other hand, this is a reassurance to the rest of the US allies which share similar concerns from the growing Chinese assertiveness and China-brokered tensions in the region.