Defense experts and lawmakers in the United States are calling for selling offensive weapons and advanced military equipment to Taiwan, amidst the rapid buildup of the Chinese regime’s military and the threat it poses to the island nation and the surrounding Asia-Pacific region.
“China’s military buildup threatens not just Taiwan but also other Asian democracies, and has rendered the balance that has been maintained [by the United States] since the 1970s obsolete,” said Richard Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center who spoke at a Taiwan defense conference at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs on April 5.
Fisher referred to the policy maintained by the United States for decades not to sell overtly offensive-minded weapons to Taiwan, such as parts and technologies that could lead to the development of long-range missiles and rockets.
Fisher, who is an expert on China’s military and also U.S.-Taiwan arms sales, said that the Chinese regime’s rapid military buildup and its demonstrated ambition to commit aggression means that the United States must rethink its policy. Providing Taiwan with more effective and lethal weapons will enable the democratic island nation to more effectively defend itself, said Fisher.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1979 and remains the legal foundation of U.S. policy to Taiwan today, the U.S. government is mandated to provide Taiwan with “defense articles and defense services” to an extent that Taiwan can maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
“This calculation [not to sell offensive weapons to Taiwan] worked for a number of decades, until the last decade when it started to break down at an accelerating path following China’s military buildup,” said Fisher.
While details of Taiwan’s cruise missile and ballistic missile programs remain highly classified, defense experts have said that these missiles form a crucial self-defense tool to strike back if China attacks or invades the island nation.
Though Taiwan has pursued the program over a long period of time, it did so discreetly to avoid raising international concerns. Many key components of Taiwan’s missile program are sourced from the United States, and are therefore subjected to extensive U.S. export control.
Two senior Republican Senators, John Cornyn and James Inhofe. have recently asked the Trump administration to approve the sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Taiwan. The Taiwanese government has repeatedly expressed the desire to purchase these weapons, but many observers have said that United States is not likely to sell them to Taiwan anytime soon.
The People’s Republic of China and those in the United States favoring a conciliatory approach to Beijing have consistently opposed selling Taiwan more advanced weapons, including cruise missile parts and F-35s.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) currently deploys more than 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. Beijing has also continued to ramp up aggression aimed at Taiwan and the surrounding region, such as activating a new air route that was controversially placed on top of the centerline of the Taiwan Strait.
“Barring significant adjustments, by the middle of next decade Taiwan will be vulnerable to blockade, attack, extreme coercion, and even invasion [from China],” said Richard Fisher.
Fisher said that Washington should increase support for Taiwan’s needs in both defensive and offensive weapons, and should even encourage Taiwan to develop space platforms that can have military application, such as satellites that can help monitor the Chinese regime’s military deployments and maneuvers.