Despite approval from the Pentagon and State Department, a $1 billion arms sale vital to improving Taiwan’s defenses was blocked in December by the Obama administration.
The arms package was part of efforts between the U.S. and Taiwan to strengthen defenses against increased Chinese weaponry being deployed across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait. However, Trump administration officials say it was blocked by National Security Council staff, which set back the process to support Taiwan tremendously.
John Tkacik, a former State Department official, said the move was a mistake.
“It is truly alarming that the White House, in its last month, would ignore a defense transfer recommendation endorsed by both the State and Defense Departments, especially after the incoming president had already signaled his support of a strengthened security relationship with Taiwan.”
Tkacik refers to then-President-elect Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in December, which was the first time an American president had spoken directly to Taiwan’s president in decades and incited protests in Beijing.
Trump administration officials could not state whether the arms package was thwarted due to the phone call, but do report they are preparing to now provide an even better deal to Taiwan.
Taking advantage of the block, the Trump administration will wait until after President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visit China to broker a new deal. Taiwan is expected to be a major talking point for both Trump’s and Tillerson’s meetings.
A White House official remarked, “There’s a process for these things that’s being followed. The Trump administration takes America’s commitment to Taiwan’s security very seriously.”
On Dec. 10, China released a fleet of jet fighters and a bomber to circle Taiwan. In addition, it also protested a law signed in December that allows the Pentagon to conduct military exchanges with Taiwan.
Randall Schriver, a former assistant secretary of state and assistant secretary of defense, warned, “China’s growing capabilities combined with an intent to put greater pressure on Taiwan should compel us to take a serious look at increasing our security assistance to Taiwan including support for its indigenous submarine program and making available a [vertical, short-take off and landing] fighter aircraft.”
Another Trump administration official said the Obama administration’s delay will curb arguments by pro-China government officials, who could have stated that the U.S. already fulfilled the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act with the December deal.
“Now we can start from scratch with a truly useful arms package once the assistant secretaries are in place,” the official said, referring to working-level Trump administration appointees at the Pentagon and State Department.
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