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China angered by U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, threatens sanctions

China threatened on Thursday to retaliate against the latest U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, as the island welcomed the weapons package but said it was not looking to get into an arms race with Beijing.

U.S. has said Taiwan needs to 'fortify itself' against any attempts by China to isolate the island

Bullets are lined up in front of a U.S.-made F-16V fighters during a military exercise in Chiayi County, southern of Taiwan on Jan. 15. Taiwan has purchased missiles, rocket launchers and drones as part of its latest arms transaction with the U.S. (Chiang Ying-ying/The Associated Press)

China threatened on Thursday to retaliate against the latest U.S. arms sale to Chinese-claimed Taiwan, as the island welcomed the weapons package but said it was not looking to get into an arms race with Beijing.

The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits by senior U.S officials, adding to tensions between Beijing and Washington, already heightened by disagreements over the South China Sea, Hong Kong, human rights and trade.

Beijing has applied increasing pressure on democratically ruled Taiwan to accept China's sovereignty, including by flying fighter jets across the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, which normally serves as an unofficial buffer.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province it has vowed to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary. Washington considers it an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.

Responding to the U.S. approval of a potential $1.8 billion US arms sale to Taiwan, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a daily news briefing that such sales should stop.

The sales "seriously interfere with China's internal affairs, seriously damage China's sovereignty and security interests, send a seriously wrong signal to Taiwan independence forces and severely damage China-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," he said.

"China will make a legitimate and necessary response according to how the situation develops," Zhao added.

He did not give details, but China has sanctioned U.S. companies in the past for selling weapons to Taiwan, though it is unclear what form they have taken.

Taiwan says buildup is necessary

In Taipei, Taiwan Defence Minister Yen De-fa thanked the United States and said the weapons were to help Taiwan improve their defensive capabilities to deal with the "enemy threat and new situation."

"This includes a credible combat capability and asymmetric warfare capabilities to strengthen our determination to defend ourselves," he added.

"This shows the importance attached by the United States to security in the Indo-Pacific and Taiwan Strait. We will continue to consolidate our security partnership with the United States."

Yen said they were not looking for confrontation.

"We will not engage in an arms race with the Chinese Communists. We will put forward requirements and build fully in accordance with the strategic concept of heavy deterrence, defending our position and defensive needs."

Taiwan's armed forces are dwarfed by China's, which are expanding their capability with new weapons like aircraft carriers and stealth fighters.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made defence modernization a priority in the face of a rising Chinese threat, particularly "asymmetric warfare" capabilities, which refers to making any Chinese attack difficult and costly, for example with smart mines and portable missiles.

Making Taiwan a 'porcupine'

Like most countries, Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, though it is its strongest global backer. The U.S. has been pushing Taiwan to modernize its military so it can become a "porcupine" — that is, hard for China to attack.

Among other weapons systems, Wednesday's formal notifications to Congress by the State Department were for 11 truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin called a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), for an estimated cost of $436.1 million.

The notifications also covered 135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) Missiles and related equipment made by Boeing for an estimated $1.008 billion, and six MS-110 Recce external sensor pods made by Collins Aerospace for jets, at an estimated cost of $367.2 million.

Further congressional notifications are expected to follow, including drones made by General Atomics and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles made by Boeing to serve as coastal defence cruise missiles.

The U.S. administration has stepped up pressure on Beijing in the run-up to the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key foreign policy theme.

Last week, the U.S. national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said that while China probably was not ready to invade Taiwan for now, the island needed to "fortify itself" against a future attack or any bid to isolate it through non-military means, such as an embargo.

Taiwan has been testing new surface-to-surface missiles, which its media says have the ability to strike deep inside China, potentially giving the island the ability to attack far-off Chinese air bases and command centres.

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