By Josh Owens, the Content Director at Oilprice.com. Originally published at OilPrice
While Washington slaps another $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods with one hand, it is offering a $330-million weapons deal to Taiwan with the other – adding yet more fuel to the U.S.-China trade war fire.
The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of F-16 fighter plane parts and other military aircraft to Taiwan in a deal worth up to $330 million, leading Beijing to suggest that the move will hinder any efforts at cooperation on tariffs.
This is where U.S.-China relations really could hit a boiling point, with China claiming self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and Washington threatening to disrupt the status quo.
The Pentagon says the deal would contribute to the “foreign policy and national security of the United States”, recognizing Taiwan as “an important force for political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region”.
But to Beijing, it’s a very thinly veiled threat, and where it concerns Taiwan, the view in the mainland is that this is a breakaway province that must be brought back into the fold, even if that means through the use of force. So selling weapons to Taiwan is a call to arms.
“We urge the U.S. side … to immediately cancel this deal and cut off military ties with Taiwan to avoid doing serious damage to China-U.S. relations, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and cooperation between U.S. and China in important areas,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press briefing on Tuesday. The same sentiment was issued by the Chinese Defense Ministry.
China’s Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said at a news conference on Tuesday that on trade, the U.S. was putting a “knife to China’s neck.” Adding a Taiwanese weapons sale to Trump’s trade attacks is only adding pressure to that knife.
Of course, it’s a major victory for Taiwan, which views the proposed deal as a prop for helping it face security challenges from Beijing. It’s also a very bold new commitment on the part of Washington to the Taiwan Relations Act.
It’s a tricky relationship because the U.S. does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, in accordance with the ‘One China’ policy. In 1979, Washington recognized Beijing as the sole government of China. But the Taiwan Relations Act muddies these waters and offers support short of diplomatic recognition.
The Trump administration has been all over Taiwan, where others have been more cautious in the past about ruffling China’s feathers. If this new $330-million deal goes through, it will be the second big arms package for Taiwan in two years—under Trump. Last year, it was a $1-billion deal.
But this time around, the timing is more poignant.
On midnight Monday, the Trump administration put into effect another round of tariffs targeting $200 billion in Chinese goods—raising the total tariff target on Chinese goods to $250 billion. He also threatened additional tariffs on $267 billion in new goods, which would cover almost everything that comes out of China.
But cooperation is now at stake, far beyond trade, according to Chinese analysts cited by the South China Morning Post.
“Beijing is much more confident now, and it’s in a better position to take countermeasures than it was before,” SCMP quoted Shen Dingli, director of the Programme on Arms Control and Regional Security at Fudan University in Shanghai, as saying.
“The U.S. has to work with other countries, including China, in areas like counterterrorism, non-proliferation, anti-money laundering and infectious disease control,” he said. “It can’t expect China to cooperate whenever it makes a demand while it is hurting China’s interests.”