The Washington Post

U.S. looks to sell Taiwan $1.1 billion in arms

Announceme­nt of largest sale under Biden is meant to deter China


The Biden administra­tion Friday formally notified Congress of its intent to sell Taiwan $1.1 billion worth of defensive arms as Beijing continues its heightened military air and sea presence around the island in the wake of a high-profile visit to Taipei by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month.

The package, which includes 60 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 100 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and support for a surveillan­ce radar system, is the fifth and largest arms sale to Taiwan advanced by the Biden administra­tion. It is widely expected to clear Congress, which is considerin­g legislatio­n to surge the amount of security assistance provided to Taiwan over the next four years.

Such sales generally take several years to be delivered because of larger structural challenges arising out of how foreign military sales are completed. Laura Rosenberge­r, White House senior director for Taiwan and China, said the administra­tion has undertaken a “substantia­l effort” to accelerate the process. “We’re acutely aware of the need to expedite delivery,” she said.

The package, which was first reported by Politico, is part of the administra­tion’s broader strategy to deter Beijing’s aggression, officials said. That strategy also calls for working with allies and partners through joint exercises in the region and building Taipei’s economic resilience so it can withstand increased pressure from China, they said. The United States will soon launch trade talks with Taiwan.

“The biggest threats we see that Taiwan will face are going to come from the sea and from the air,” Rosenberge­r said. “So it is really critical that they are able to use the Harpoons in support of the coastal defense and the Sidewinder­s in support of their air defense.”

Rosenberge­r stressed, however, that the administra­tion sees the threat from China against Taiwan as long-term and so Washington’s response needs to be both sustained and comprehens­ive. Last month, for instance, the United States conducted a joint air exercise with Japan near Okinawa, and last week it sent two U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait — the first such transit since the visit by Pelosi (D- Calif.).

“We will not be reflexive or knee-jerk,” White House Indo-pacific Coordinato­r Kurt Campbell told reporters last month. “We will be patient and effective, will continue to fly sail and operate wherever internatio­nal law allows.”

Taiwan’s status is the most fraught issue in the U.S.- China relationsh­ip. Washington, under its one- China policy, recognizes Beijing as the sole legal government of China. But it has never endorsed Beijing’s position that Taiwan, a self-governed island, is part of China. Nonetheles­s, under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is committed to providing Taipei “defense articles and defense services” necessary to enable it to defend itself.

For months and even years before Pelosi’s visit, Beijing was stepping up aggressive actions in the region. President Xi Jinping saw a visit by Pelosi, who was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island since then-house Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997, as highly provocativ­e and effectivel­y an effort to further change relations between Washington and Taipei.

But the Biden administra­tion said it is China that is seeking to upend the status quo. “What we see is a real effort by Beijing to increase its coercive pressure campaign against Taiwan,” Rosenberge­r said. “We believe that Beijing is trying to change the status quo and its efforts are jeopardizi­ng peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

The backlogs in arms sales are getting worse because the demand is growing as threats around the world multiply, experts said. “It usually takes four or five years for weapons to be delivered and deployed — that is a normal timeline for the foreign military sales process,” said Rupert Hammond- Chambers, president of the U.s.-taiwan Business Council, which tracks arms sales closely.

“The ability of the primary defense contractor­s to ramp up production quickly simply is not there,” he said. “That’s for fighter jets, ships, missiles. When we need more HIMARS [multiplero­cket launchers] for Ukraine, there just isn’t the capacity in the production lines.”

According to HammondCha­mbers, none of the weapons in the previous packages approved by the Biden administra­tion have been delivered. In fact, very little of the hardware approved under the Trump administra­tion for Taiwan has been delivered, he said.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is driving up demand in Eastern Europe for U.S. weapons. The threat from Iran is driving procuremen­t from the Emirates. In Asia, China’s military buildup has heightened demand for U.S. weapons from the Indians, Australian­s and Japanese, he said.

“Those are all real threats to our country and friends and partners,” he said. “When you get right down to prioritizi­ng who gets what when, is Iran the bigger threat? Is Russia? Is China? Sequencing is really tricky.”

The anti-ship and air-to-air missiles that Washington is selling Taipei are what the administra­tion calls “asymmetric” in that they are intended to neutralize larger and more expensive assets such as warships or fighter jets. But some analysts say the ground-launched Harpoons are more likely to survive Chinese targeting than those launched from F-16s, as called for in this package. Nonetheles­s, they are a step in the right direction, other analysts say.

“No single sale is going to solve Taiwan’s problems, but a sustained level of investment in antiship and anti-air capabiliti­es that builds credible stockpiles is a positive trend,” said Eric Sayers, a former adviser to the U.S. IndoPacifi­c Command and now a nonresiden­t fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Furnishing arms to Taipei in advance of a conflict is crucial because once fighting breaks out, it will be nearly impossible to resupply Taiwan via land, sea or air, analysts said. “NATO has been able to supply weapons to Ukraine relatively easily” through its land border with Poland, noted Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund. “If a conflict between Taiwan and China breaks out, a PLA [People’s Liberation Army] blockade would prevent the United States from supplying weapons to Taiwan, so they need to store a large inventory of munitions.”

 ?? Ann Wang/reuters ?? Military personnel load a U.s.-made Harpoon anti-ship missile during a press event at an air base in Hualien, Taiwan, on Aug. 17. The arms package the White House notified Congress of on Friday would include 60 Harpoons and 100 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
Ann Wang/reuters Military personnel load a U.s.-made Harpoon anti-ship missile during a press event at an air base in Hualien, Taiwan, on Aug. 17. The arms package the White House notified Congress of on Friday would include 60 Harpoons and 100 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

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