Officials and military experts from Taiwan and the United States will meet via video conference to discuss which weapons would be best for the island’s self-defence as tensions escalate between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
During the 2020 US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference, which is expected to begin on Monday US time, Taiwan’s deputy defence minister Chang Guan-chung is expected to brief the US side on the weaponry most needed and urgently sought by the island after seeing growing military intimidation from Beijing.
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait have risen in the past two months since the United States sent two high-ranking cabinet officials – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and undersecretary of state Keith Krach – to Taiwan on August 9 and September 17 respectively, moves seen as highly provocative to Beijing.
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Beijing has sent dozens of warplanes for deliberate incursions into Taiwan’s air-defence identification zone, with at least 37 crossing a median line in the narrow strait between Taiwan and the mainland. The incursions were meant as a sign of Beijing’s displeasure over the visits, which were aimed at consolidating US-Taiwan substantive ties in the absence of formal relations.
The US-Taiwan Business Council has hosted the event annually in the US since 2002. This year, in place of the face-to-face event, the business council will hold a smaller two-day conference online, with the sessions and keynotes scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
Topics to be discussed behind closed doors include “US defence cooperation with Taiwan, the defence procurement process and Taiwan’s defence and national security needs”, the council said, adding it also hoped to “provide opportunities to connect with others working on Taiwan defence and national security issues”.
The defence industry conference is a semi-official military exchange event traditionally considered very important to Taiwan. Taipei formerly used the occasion to pass its weapons wish list to the US, seeking items to aid its defence against military attack by Beijing.
Beijing views Taiwan as its territory subject to eventual union by force if needed. It has warned Washington time and again against supplying arms to the self-ruled island and reminded it to observe the US one-China policy by not entering any form of official contact with the island.
Taiwan is usually represented at the conference by its deputy defence minister who leads a delegation comprising representatives of different political parties, legislators, military experts and defence industry operators. They discuss possible cooperation programmes and future exchanges with their counterparts at side meetings, according to a military source.
The council did not reveal who would represent the US this year, but the source said it should at least include James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto embassy of the US on the island in the absence of official ties.
Last year David Helvey, who is now the deputy assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, attended the event but it was not immediately known whether he will attend the virtual conference this month.
For the first time, the main opposition Kuomintang party will have its chairman, Johnny Chiang, address the opening of the conference, indicating the KMT’s firm support for a closer US-Taiwan relationship, say party officials.
“The chairman is expected to tell the US there is a need for Taiwan to increase its strength in order to consolidate peace, and therefore the KMT takes note of the acquisition of defensive arms from the US in compliance with the Taiwan Relations Act,” said Li Da-jung, director of the KMT’s international affairs department.
The KMT has been criticised for opting for closer relations with Beijing rather than Washington.
Li said Chiang would show the sincerity of the KMT’s aim not to decouple from the US.
US weapons have became more available to Taiwan under US President Donald Trump than they were under the administrations of his predecessors. Trump adopted a policy to counter Beijing when he was elected in 2017.
The Trump administration has previously approved seven major arms deals to Taiwan worth some US$13.2 billion in total – including dozens of F-16 fighter jets, M1A2T Abrams tanks, portable Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and MK-48 Mod6 torpedoes – prompting Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu to express his thanks last month for American support for Taiwan’s self-defence capabilities.
According to news media reports, the Trump administration is poised to make a further US$7 billion arms deal with Taiwan, which would include cruise missiles, mines, MQ-9B Reaper drones, along with related sensors, logistics, ground control stations, training and other equipment.
Wu said the US weapon deals were necessary as “confronted with the Chinese communist regime, Taiwan is on the front lines defending democracies”.
More from South China Morning Post:
- No sign China is preparing attack on Taiwan – but we will be ready if they do: defence chief
- Taiwan military to allow forces to fire back after mainland Chinese air incursions
- South China Sea: ex-US defence chief James Mattis told Beijing to play by the rules, Woodward book says
This article Taiwan prepares a weapons shopping list to hand US at defence conference first appeared on South China Morning Post