Sale of American arms to Taiwan: China announces sanctions

Following the announcement by Washington of the authorization of sale of 108 Abrams M1A2 tanks to Taiwan, Deputy Director of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, Geng Shuang, said that "China will impose sanctions on American companies involved in arms sales to Taiwan." The nature of the planned retaliatory measures was not specified, yet the announcement of sanctions against American companies is unusual but naturally echoes recent American sanctions against Huawei, a Chinese company.

In his statement, Geng Shuang invokes international law and the three joint communiqués between China (PRC) and the United States to justify the supposed illegality of these arms sales. However, neither China, nor the United States, nor even Taiwan have signed and ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Moreover, in the three joint communiqués, no definitive conclusions were reached on the issue of arms sales to Taiwan, although the United States declared its intention to gradually reduce such sales. A point that will be clarified by one of the principles of the “Six Assurances” of John H. Holdridge, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs: “We have not agreed to set a specific date for the end of arms sales to Taiwan.

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The order, authorized by Washington, of 108 American Abrams M1A2 battle tanks by Taiwan, cannot be tolerated by Beijing, which considers the independent island to be an “internal affair”.

China's reactions could demonstrate a fear that the balance of power between China and Taiwan tends towards balance in the case of a Chinese offensive, although the difference between the Chinese military budget ($177,6 billion in 2019) and Taiwanese ($10,7 billion in 2019) remains considerable. Modern technologies make force projection actions more difficult, especially in the context of new access denial strategies favoring defense. Thus a nation like Taiwan, with sufficient material support from the United States, may hope to be able to keep China at bay by making the human and material "costs" of intervention far too high compared to the political and economic benefits. hoped. However, the Taiwanese population seems less and less confident in the dissuasive capabilities of their forces, with 65% of them believing that the Taiwanese armies would not be able to face an offensive military of Beijing.

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The Chinese Navy already has 2 Type 055 cruisers and at least 4 additional units are being finished in the country's shipyards.

Furthermore, Chinese military power will not be at its maximum potential in 2050, and Beijing may be tempted to wait to obtain the best power gradient. But this would contradict the commitments of Xi Jinping, who has made reunification with Taiwan a priority strategic objective of his political action. In fact, the current dilemma lies between means that are still too limited to carry out a front-line action (China only has 6 Type 071 assault ships today, but will have 9 Type 071 LPDs and 9 Type 075 assault helicopter carrier in 2030, as well as at least 5 PAs including 3 equipped with catapults, and 12 to 15 Type 055 cruisers), the relative weakness of Taiwan and the United States today in this sector, and the desire to “realize its destiny » from the Chinese leader. Furthermore, invasion is not Beijing's only means of action to achieve its ends, such as a naval and air blockade, for example, under the pretext of preventing the delivery of weapons to the island. In this hypothesis, Beijing would now have the means to carry out such action, although it would be preferable to wait until 2025, to have more Type 055 cruisers, Type 039B attack submarines (sometimes identified as Type 041), Type 093 and 095 nuclear submarines, as well as more modern destroyers, frigates and corvettes.

Clement Guery
Specialist in foreign policy and security issues of the People's Republic of China.

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