US is set to clear the sale of General Atomics drones besides cruise missiles and mines in a major boost to Taiwanese defense capabilities even as Beijing commenced joint maritime and aerial exercises and combat-readiness patrols in the Taiwan Strait.
The “real combat-oriented drill,” as Chinese state control media called it, coincided with the visit of US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach to Taiwan island from Thursday for "economic talks." The visit is seen an arms sales push by the Trump administration at a time when Beijing-Taipei tensions are at an all-time high.
China held similar drills in August when US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited the island nation.
On Taiwan’s shopping list are seven items including weapons packages from Lockheed Martin Co, Boeing Co and General Atomics. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will brief Trump on Taiwan’s arms packages this week.
Some of the deals had been requested by Taiwan more than a year ago, but are only now being moved through the approval process. If signed, it will be rare departure from years of precedent in which US military sales to Taiwan were spaced out and carefully calibrated to minimize tensions with Beijing.
A senior US official said that Taiwan’s increased defense spending in light of Chinese aggression is a good step, but that it needs to do more. “Taiwan, frankly, needs to do more in order to ensure that they indigenously have an ability to deter Chinese aggression,” official said.
Meanwhile, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) is holding joint maritime and aerial exercises and combat-readiness patrols in the Taiwan Straits. According to reports, 18 PLA warplanes - two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighter jets, four J-11 and four J-10 planes - were involved in the drills.
The PLA operations have multiple dimensions that make secessionists on the island a turtle in a jar, and the PLA can turn the exercises into real action any time if Taiwan secessionists insist on their obduracy, Chinese mainland experts were quoted as saying by Global Times on Friday.
The move, which targets the current cross-Straits situation, is legitimate and necessary action the mainland has taken to protect its sovereignty and integrity, Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson at the Ministry of National Defense, remarked.
Aside from the Ministry of National Defense, China's Foreign Ministry and the PLA Eastern Theater Command also released statements, stressing that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. "The PLA has the firm willingness, full confidence and enough capability to defeat all outside forces that interfere with the Taiwan question or conduct separatist actions to protect national sovereignty and integrity," Ren said.