In a reckless provocation to China, the Trump administration has given notice of three major arms deals with Taiwan. The rocket launcher and missiles on offer are advanced attack systems. Beijing is infuriated and vows to respond.
The timing of the weapons deals strongly suggests a calculated move by the Trump White House to deliberately antagonize China. After all, the Republican president and his Democrat rival have been sparring over which one is tougher towards Beijing. Riling up China would therefore play into President Donald Trump’s hawkish posturing.
With recent opinion polls showing Trump losing ground to Joe Biden only three weeks from the ballot, it looks like the incumbent is throwing everything including the kitchen sink to boost his re-election chances. Announcing sped-up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, as well as a touted nuclear arms agreement with Russia (dismissed by Moscow as overblown), seems to be part of a last-gasp effort by the Trump campaign to scrape up votes.
But offensive weapons sales to Taiwan is taking electioneering to recklessly dangerous levels. Trump may be betting that China will huff and puff and then a turn blind eye, thereby permitting him to make political gain without any real damage done – like starting a war.
It’s more precarious than that. The Trump administration has been using Taiwan as a catspaw against China for too long. The latest weapons deals being proposed are just part of a slew of advanced armaments that the Trump White House has overseen in its determination to aggravate Beijing.
The moves by the Trump administration to increase supply of offensive weapons systems to Taiwan are unprecedented. Since Washington formally broke ties with Taiwan in 1979, as part of its One China policy to placate Beijing’s territorial claims, previous administrations have limited arms sales to the breakaway island to “defensive” armaments.
Under Trump, however, Washington has signaled it is abandoning its One China policy by explicitly moving towards supporting Taiwan and its separatist position. Selling offensive missiles, torpedoes, anti-ship mines and F-16s to Taiwan over the past year alone is letting China know that the US is threatening to back the island in an armed confrontation with the mainland.
In recent months, the Trump administration has sent the most senior US officials on high-profile visits to Taiwan since 1979. Last month, Kelly Craft, the American ambassador to the UN, declared support for Taiwan to have official representation at the world body. Those high-level state acknowledgements have coincided with Washington sending high-powered military forces to the Taiwan Strait in the form of warships and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
These provocative moves have been met by China escalating its military forces in a show of strength to underpin its self-declared right to retake Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade state since the 1949 civil war when the defeated nationalist faction exiled there.
The anti-China hostility generated in Washington is a bipartisan position adopted by Republicans and Democrats. That means the weapons sales lined up by Trump for Taiwan will likely be voted through, no matter who wins the presidential contest on November 3. There’s also at least another four major arms packages reportedly in the works due at a later stage.
The US foreign policy establishment and the Pentagon – as seen in several planning documents over recent years – have targeted China as a great power rival. The antagonism that Trump has certainly lent his brash personality to is not going away even if he loses the election next month.
Piling on weapons sales to Taiwan is not merely a reprehensible electioneering ploy which Trump might cynically calculate benefits him. It is part of a growing dynamic of belligerence out of Washington towards Beijing. Whether it’s Trump or Biden sitting in the White House, that doesn’t alter the disastrous collision course that Washington is charting towards Beijing based on the former’s presumed imperialist prerogatives.
It’s a foreboding sign of the times when China’s President Xi Jinping this week warned combat marines to be prepared for war in defense of the nation’s sovereignty.
America’s cowardly habit of beating up on other people for its own political ego trips sooner or later goes too far. Washington messing around with China’s sovereignty and national security as seen with incorrigible and increasingly offensive weapons sales to Taiwan is playing with fire. A fire that could be just one spark away.
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