When US President Joe Biden recently signed an $80 million grant for Taiwan to buy US military equipment, China said it “regrets and opposes” Washington’s actions.
To the casual observer, this is not a large amount – a modern fighter costs more. Taiwan has already ordered $14 billion worth of US military equipment. Does any $80 million matter?
This time things are different
These millions are not a loan, they come from the pockets of American taxpayers. For the first time in over 40 years, America is using its own money to send weapons to a territory it does not officially recognize. This is happening under the umbrella of a program called Foreign Military Financing (FMF). It is this program that has been used to provide $4 billion worth of military aid to Ukraine. Billions have been sent to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Egypt through this channel. But so far the money has been directed to countries or organizations recognized by the United Nations.
This is not the case with Taiwan
In the past, the US sold weapons to Taiwan to defend itself against a possible Chinese attack, but not in such quantities as to destabilize relations between Beijing and Washington. Over the past decade, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has tilted dramatically in China’s favor. Washington says the policy has not changed now, and the State Department denies that using the foreign military financing program means the United States recognizes Taiwan.
From Taipei’s perspective, however, America is redefining relations with the island
The $80 million is just the tip of the iceberg. In July, US President Joe Biden approved the sale of $500 million worth of military equipment to Taiwan. Taipei is preparing to send two battalions to the United States for training, a first since the 1970s. Politicians in Taiwan say this is just the beginning, and over the next 5 years, the US could lend $10 billion.
Taiwan’s military has hundreds of old tanks but few modern missile systems. The command structure, tactics and doctrine have not been updated for half a century. There are no counterintelligence operations in China. In 2013, Taiwan reduced military service from 1 year to 4 months, and many joked that it was like summer camp. Starting next year, the one-year military service will return again.
There is a sense in Washington that Taiwan needs to hurry up with reform and building a real military
China now has the world’s largest navy, undisputed air force supremacy. A war simulation by an NGO found that in a conflict with China, Taiwan’s navy and air force would be wiped out in just the first 96 hours of fighting.
Under Washington’s leadership, Taipei adopted a “fortress Taiwan” strategy.
The focus shifts to ground forces, infantry and artillery. There is currently a heated debate in Washington about how far US support for Taiwan should go. China insiders say any public commitment from the US will provoke China, not deter. But Washington knows that Taiwan cannot defend itself, and now the approach is: “Keep silent on strategy while arming Taiwan to the teeth.”