China sanctions US defence giants for selling weapons to Taiwan

Sophia Yan
·3-min read
Taiwan's navy sailors take part in a commissioning ceremony of guided missile frigates in 2018 - Reuters
Taiwan's navy sailors take part in a commissioning ceremony of guided missile frigates in 2018 - Reuters

China will sanction US defence giants Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and other companies selling weapons to Taiwan. 

“China has pointed out many times [that] arms sales from the US to Taiwan seriously violate the 'one China’ principle',” China’s foreign ministry said on Monday. Beijing also “strongly condemns” the practice.

As such, Beijing is taking “necessary measures to impose sanctions… to safeguard national sovereignty” against entities that have “acted maliciously” by selling arms to Taiwan, said a foreign ministry spokesman.

Beijing has not provided specific details on the nature of sanctions that it plans to impose and the specific impact on the US defence giants thus far remains unclear. 

China has long considered Taiwan – a self-governed democratic island of 23m people with its own military, currency, passport and foreign policy – as a renegade province.

Plane - SAM YEH/AFP
Plane - SAM YEH/AFP

Beijing has also for years made clear that it plans to “reunify” with Taiwan, a message that has become more shrill as tensions escalate with the US. 

Washington has been more vocal about supporting Taiwan since Donald Trump was elected to the White House, starting with sharing a phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen who congratulated him shortly after his 2016 election victory. 

Support has also come in other forms, including an announcement from the US State Department last week that it would approve a $1.8bn (£1.3bn) potential sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery. 

While the US does not have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Washington is legally bound to provide the island with the means to protect itself.

Despite battling coronavirus at home, Beijing has buzzed Taiwan several times this year, with fighter jets flying into Taiwanese airspace. The Chinese military has also engaged in a number of simultaneous drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan, all in a show of force.

Air force pilots -  Johnson Lai/AP
Air force pilots - Johnson Lai/AP

Earlier this year China already sanctioned Lockheed Martin for selling weapons to Taiwan, although the penalties were unclear. 

Lockheed Martin did not comment directly on Monday's announcement but said it worked “closely with the US government on any military sales to international customers”.

The company “adheres to US government policy with regard to conducting business with foreign governments... all of our international sales are strictly regulated by the US government”.

A Boeing spokesman said its partnership with China’s aviation community had long-term benefits and that it remained committed to the relationship.

Raytheon did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The US has had an arms embargo in place on China since 1989 after the Chinese military gunned down pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

That has long constrained business links that US defence firms can have with China, though Lockheed, Raytheon and Boeing all appear to have some links to the world’s second-largest economy.

Seattle-based Boeing has commercial interests in China, opening its first overseas plant – a completion and delivery facility of its 737 planes – in the city of Zhoushan in 2018, amidst growing trade friction with the US.  

In recent weeks, China has been running military exercises close to Taiwan, having previously said it did not recognise an unofficial boundary in the Taiwan Strait that has until now helped maintain an uneasy stability in the area. 

More than a dozen countries recognise Taiwan as a separate country and have formal diplomatic relations, while others fudge the issue to avoid ratcheting up global tensions.

The US does not officially recognise Taiwan as a independent country under Washington’s “one China” policy, but supports its individual membership to many international global bodies such as the World Trade Organization.

The Trump administration has increased support for Taiwan through diplomatic visits and arms sales, stirring up trouble between Washington and Beijing which are already at loggerheads over international trade, other territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and coronavirus.

A further weapons sale to Taiwan is expected to include drones made by General Atomics and anti-ship missiles made by Boeing.