US Arms Sales to Taiwan and China’s International Isolation
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By VBN Ram
Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Oct , 2020

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is lamenting that post Covid 19, it has become the world’s punching bag. The recent denouncement of China’s Communist Party in a media interview on the sidelines of the 2 plus 2 dialogue- by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on an official visit to India as also some other nations within the Indian Ocean rim, have annoyed and unnerved China, because from its perspective , Mike Pompeo’s statement was adding insult to an already bruised China due to the US decision to sell sophisticated military hardware to Taiwan.

Ever since the re-election of Tsai Ing–wen belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as Taiwan’s  President,  the PRC has become very wary of Taiwan (which, the PRC regards as its breakaway province ), her Democratic People’s Party is perceived by the PRC as a pro-independence party.

The best tactics in Beijing’s view therefore, is to demonstrate its military might by air space violations of Taiwan, besides directing its naval craft to cross the mid-line in the Taiwan Straits and threaten Taiwan.

In order to provide adequate deterrence to Taiwan the United States has just approved the sales of about USD 2 billion worth of arms to Taiwan. These include: a) 135 ground to air missiles b) six MS 110 air reconnaissance pods and c) eleven M142 mobile light rocket launchers.

This follows the earlier US sale of sixty-six new model F 16 Block 70 aircraft.1

These arm sales have incensed the PRC, which has lost no time in thrusting the three US suppliers namely Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon Technologies Corporation with sanctions. Such sanctions according to the Spokesman of PRC’s Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian, have been enforced “ to uphold national interests.”

In  1979, the United States , because of geostrategic compulsions, followed a policy of People’s Republic of China (PRC ) appeasement. Its political stance had necessarily to have a more pro-PRC tilt to counter the cold war inspired Soviet challenge to both the US and PRC In 1979 US severed diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (RoC or Taiwan) to accommodate PRC, which made it unequivocally obligatory on the part of US  to endorse the “ One China “ policy,  if it desired to partner with PRC to promote  shared interests.

In furtherance of the above cause PRC formed a united front with US, Japan and Western Europe against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

To enlist PRC’s cooperation against the Soviet Union the United States abrogated its  Mutual Defence Treaty with the RoC.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid, the United States solemnly stood by the six commitments it had made under the 1982 Third US-China Joint Communiqué on arms sales to Taiwan.

The Six Commitments were:

    1. US would not set a date for the termination of arms sales to Taiwan
    2. US would not alter the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act. This Act defines the intrinsic nature of the relationship between the people of the United States and Taiwan. However, there is no formal diplomatic relationship between Taiwan and the United States since that would tantamount to the US rejection of the One China policy to which the US is committed ever since the RoC was derecognized by the US and China secured US recognition.
    3. US would not consult with China in advance before making decisions on US arms sales to Taiwan
    4. US would not mediate between Taiwan and China
    5. US would not alter its position about the sovereignty of Taiwan, which was that the question was to be decided peacefully by the Chinese themselves and would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with China
    6. US would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

From the aforesaid six terms, which had bipartisan support in the US Congress, it is easily discernable that the United States  did not wish to take a stance, which a) would like to challenge the one China principle b) would like to alter what both China and Taiwan refer to as ‘ Cross Strait Relations-which support Taiwan’s cultural links with the PRC, provide an economic lifeline to Taiwan through two way trade and investments, and attempt to alter the PRC-China links either to embarrass Taiwan, or challenge what China regards as its  red  line with other nations namely the One China principle.

Taiwan and the PRC concluded a Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement ( ECFA ) in June 2010. The   economic benefits of the accord have enabled Taiwan to invest  USD 183.4 billion  in the Mainland until the end of Feb 2019.

Needless to say that Taiwan would not be doing so, if such investments were not economically beneficial to it, as also provide at least a symbolic tokenism to Cross-Strait links, which both Taiwan and the PRC intend not to disrupt.

US arm sales to Taiwan have been done, despite the tremendous revenue loss to companies such as Boeing because of having to forego fresh indents from China due to sanctions Of course one need hardly mention that Covid 19 had already had an adverse impact on US arms suppliers. It is noteworthy because the PRC has for decades been Boeing’s best customer and one that provides revenue generation for its sustenance.

As regards US arms sales to the PRC and the sanction imposed response from China, it needs to be mentioned that the Obama administration had approved arms sales with USD 6.4 billion to Taiwan which China regarded as a “gross intervention in China’s internal affairs“ and in retaliation suspended military to  military contacts with the United States and promptly sanctioned US suppliers.2

 Economic interests of the US and the defence and commercial needs of the PRC  have thrust a modus vivendi which has continued to stay its course.  It is quite unlikely that this situation will change, despite a recast of US trade policy towards  PRC.


  1. Beijing Says it Will Sanction US arms sales AFP Beijing as reported by Taipei Times on Oct 27, 2020
  2. The Hundred Years Marathon by Michael Pillsbury page 198
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author


Postgraduate in business management from XLRI Jamshedpur, is widely travelled and immensely interested in and concerned about contemporary geostrategic developments. He has been a China watcher and has researched extensively on Asia-Pacific affairs. He has also written on developments in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Maldives.

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