Howitzers to be sold to Taiwan in £540m deal sparking furious China response – US on alert

China: Expert discusses fourth Taiwan air defence zone intrusion

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However, China has angrily denounced the news, coming at a time of rocketing tensions between the superpowers, with an official warning of unspecified “countermeasures”. The US State Department has approved the potential sale of 40 155mm M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer artillery systems, the Pentagon said yesterday.

The agreement comes after arms sales last year which included drones and coastal missile defences aimed at upgrading the island’s capabilities and discouraging a Chinese invasion.

President Joe Biden administration has approved other direct commercial sales of arms to Taiwan since taking office.

The package will include the howitzers, 1,698 precision guidance kits for munitions, spares, training, ground stations as well as upgrades for Taiwan’s previous generation of howitzers, officials said.

The Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of the possible sale.

Taiwan’s defence ministry expressed “sincere gratitude” to the US government in a statement on Thursday, saying the sales would help its ground forces increase their “capacity for speedy reaction and fire support”.

The ministry called the continuous US arms support a “basis for maintaining regional stability”.

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The sale is highly contentious given Beijing regards Taiwan to be a part of China, in accordance with its One China policy.

China’s foreign ministry said it was “firmly opposed” to the sales and had lodged “stern representations” with the United States, according to comments from a spokesperson posted on the ministry’s website.

The sales interfered in China’s domestic affairs, the spokesman said, and warned Beijing would take countermeasures as the issue develops.

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China’s Taiwan Affairs Office reiterated a call for the United States to stop all arms sales to Taiwan so as not to send the wrong signal to Taiwan pro-independence forces.

Like most nations, the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan – but is required by law to provide the Chinese-claimed island with the means to defend itself and is its most important international backer, to Beijing’s anger.

Despite approval by the State Department, the notification does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.

The Pentagon said London-based security, and aerospace company BAE Systems Plc was the prime contractor for the weapons.

Speaking last year, Derek Grossman, Senior Defense Analyst at the RAND Corporation specialising in China, offered a gloomy assessment of Sino-US relations with respect to Taiwan.

He told “China is increasingly threatening Taiwan with military force.

“In the last couple of weeks, it sent dozens of military aircraft across the median line, which had been traditionally accepted as the dividing line in the Taiwan Strait by both sides, and even announced that it no longer recognised the line.

“Tensions are certainly worsening, not only because of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s reelection in January 2020 (she does not recognise the ‘1992 Consensus’ upholding ‘One China’), but also because the Trump administration has sent senior level officials to the island – including Secretary of HHS Alex Azar and Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Keith Krach – in violation, from Beijing’s perspective, of Washington’s One China Policy.

“These visits are unacceptable for Beijing because they treat Taiwan as a sovereign nation, whereas China has traditionally viewed Taiwan as a renegade province of the mainland.”

He added: “Going forward, I still assess the likelihood that China would seek to invade Taiwan as exceptionally low, but that probability has been ticking up these last few years.

“My main concern is that as US-China competition continues to ramp up and bilateral relations spiral to their lowest point perhaps ever, that Beijing will come to believe that Washington does, in fact, seek to use Taiwan to ‘contain’ China, and thus action is required to reverse the unfavourable trend.”

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