The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the Biden administration’s fifth arms transfer to Taiwan on July 15, the fourth in 2022. The package, which includes spare and maintenance parts for tanks and combat vehicles, as well as technical and logistical assistance from the US government and contractors, is believed to be worth $108 million.
According to the Pentagon, the transaction was in accordance with “US law and policy as contained in Public Law 96-8,” i.e. the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. It stated that the arms sale supports Taiwan’s “ongoing efforts to modernise its armed forces and maintain a credible defensive capability;” that it contributes to the island’s “goal of maintaining its military capability while further enhancing interoperability with the United States and other allies;” and that it “will not change the basic military balance in the region.” Following the announcement of the arms sale to Taiwan, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched a 10-aircraft raid into Taiwan’s southwestern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). It was the month’s largest sortie, including a Y-8 ASW (anti-submarine warfare) aircraft, a Y-8 EW (electronic warfare) aircraft, an H-6 bomber, six fighters (two J-11s, two J-16s, and two JH-7s), and a Z-9 ASW helicopter.
What sets this intrusion apart is that it was the first time Beijing responded to a US weapons transfer to Taiwan with sorties into Taipei’s southwestern ADIZ. The nature of the incursion, particularly the presence of the PLA Navy Z-9 ASW helicopter, clearly implies that the sorties were part of combined cross-service “combat preparedness patrols” conducted by the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command in reaction to US diplomatic outreach to Taiwan. The flightpath graphic published by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense appears to show that some of the aircraft crossed the southern area of the Median Line. There was no association between US military shipments to Taiwan and ADIZ intrusions prior to the July 15 incursion. There have been 11 arms sales to Taiwan – six by the Trump administration and five by the Biden administration – with accompanying ADIZ incursion data dating back to mid-September 2019.
The Trump administration announced four arms sales to Taiwan in October 2020, while in August last year the Biden administration authorized its first arms sale to Taiwan: 40 155mm M109A6 Paladin Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer Systems. Earlier this year, the United States supplied equipment and services to “sustain, maintain, and upgrade” Taiwan’s Patriot missile defence system, and in April, the United States sold further equipment, training, and other items to assist the Patriot system. The United States approved the export of ship and ship-system spare parts to Taiwan in June 2022. In none of these ten incidents, China responded to US military supplies to Taiwan with aviation intrusions into Taiwan’s ADIZ. Beijing decried the military deliveries as undermining Chinese sovereignty and a violation of the three joint “communiques” signed by the United States and China, which it interprets as a guarantee by the United States to reduce arms supplies to Taiwan. For example, China’s Ministry of National Defense condemned the Trump administration’s agreement to deliver Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Taiwan and asked the US to “immediately cancel plans for arms sales to Taiwan, end US-Taiwan military ties, and stop providing weapons to the island.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry also imposed sanctions on US defence firms, including Boeing, the primary contractor on the Harpoon agreement.When Washington announced the transfer of Paladin self-propelled howitzers to Taiwan, China’s Foreign Ministry condemned it as “sending the incorrect signal to
Taiwanese independence forces and creating significant damage to China-US ties and the stability of the Taiwan Strait.” China is adamantly opposed to [the sale] and has made a serious representation to the United States.” On the margins of the Shangri-La Dialogue in June, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and protested about Washington’s supply of ship spare parts to Taiwan. Wei told Austin that the arms deal “seriously damaged China’s sovereignty and security interests,” and that China “firmly opposes and strongly condemns it,” according to CCTV’s military station. Given its prior replies, China’s response to the selling of tank and combat vehicle spare parts and services with an airborne intrusion is unusual. Tank parts are hardly a game changer in terms of strategy, and the purchase pales in contrast to previous sales of military systems like Harpoon missiles or HIMARS, which can enhance Taiwan’s asymmetric defensive capabilities. It seems China is trying to display strength, but it is failing miserably at the same.