US Approves Sale of Advanced Torpedoes to Taiwan Amid China Tension

May 21, 2020 Updated: May 21, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan—The U.S. State Department has given preliminary approval for a new arms deal with Taiwan, on the day Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen began her second term in office.

The arms package requested by the Taiwan government includes 18 MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology Heavy Weight Torpedoes, spare parts, test equipment, operator manuals, training, and technical and logistics support services, according to a May 20 statement by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The estimated cost is about $180 million.

The torpedoes—featuring advanced sonar and technologies that can lower detection, search widely for targets, and reduce noise—are manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon.

The package still requires approval from Congress. If approved, the U.S. Navy would supply Taiwan the torpedoes from its stockpiles, instead of from a third-party supplier.

“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s [Taiwan’s] continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the statement says.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are “guided by the Taiwan Relations Act” and the United States is committed to the island’s defense because Taiwan is “a force for good,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, an agency within the State Department.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 1979. Since then, the relationship between Washington and Taipei has been based on the Taiwan Relations Act, which enshrines the U.S. commitment to supporting Taiwan’s defense capability.

Taiwan’s national defense is positioned mainly against military threats from the Chinese regime, which views the island as its territory, even as the self-ruled island boasts its own democratically elected officials and military.

In recent years, the United States has sold Taiwan other defense equipment, including F-16V fighter jets, M1A2T Abrams tanks, and Stinger missiles.

“America will keep Taiwan secure and free from coercion, so it can confidently engage in dialogue with the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs stated on Twitter.

China “firmly opposes” the sale, Zhao Lijin, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a daily briefing on May 21. He also called on the United States to end arms sales to Taiwan, “lest it should further harm China–U.S. relations and cross-straits peace and stability.”

Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, explained during a Parliament committee meeting on May 21 that the torpedoes will be used on future domestically built submarines, and called the torpedo sale a sign of the U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s security.

Taiwan’s Vice Defense Minister Chang Che-ping told local media the torpedoes would surely upgrade the island’s defense, and it would also help regional peace and stability.

“As a Pacific nation, Taiwan will continue to work with the US & other like-minded countries to promote lasting peace and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific through employing effective deterrence,” Taiwan’s ruling party lawmaker Wang Ting-yu wrote on Twitter.

The timing of the State Department’s announcement—following Tsai’s inauguration—is a sign of the U.S. government’s trust in her administration, Su Tzu-yun, a researcher with Taiwan’s government-run think tank Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said in an interview with local Central News Agency.

Su explained that the United States is trying to balance the naval capabilities between China and Taiwan, given China’s increasing number of submarines.

Tsai, who won a landslide victory in the island’s presidential election in January, was inaugurated for her second four-year term on May 20.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and many U.S. lawmakers sent congratulatory messages to Tsai, which didn’t sit well with Beijing.

“China will take necessary measures in response to the U.S. erroneous practices, and the consequences will be borne by the U.S. side,” said Zhao during a daily briefing on May 20, when asked about the messages.

The messages, which included Pompeo addressing Tsai as “Taiwan’s President,” are a “serious violation of the ‘One China’ principle” and interfere with “China’s internal affairs,” Zhao said.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer