New ‘hottest flashpoint’? Taiwan mulls buying US Abrams tanks to counter China
Taipei is contemplating the procurement of US M1A2 Abrams tanks to serve as a coastal line of defense should mainland China chose to reassert its sovereignty over the island nation, Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa told a panel of lawmakers on Monday, Central News Agency reports.
Noting that Abrams tanks could serve as the key force to “win the coast and defeat the enemy on the beach,” the defense minister told the panel that the military is currently evaluating buying the hardware from the United States. The assessment and the size of the potential order, Yen added, will be completed by the end of the year.
The Taiwanese defense chief believes that the island must beef up its military as China steps up its military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait.
“In one or two months, China will hold more long-range military training and increase combined forces operations when engaged in such activities in waters near Taiwan,” Yen said. “The Taiwan Strait is very likely to replace the Korean Peninsula as the hottest flash point in the region.”
Yen also noted that Taipei increased its military readiness following an expansion of Beijing’s activities near Taiwan. Since the beginning of this year, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's aircraft carrier Liaoning passed near Taiwan on at least three occasions, the last one being on April 19. Furthermore, Chinese aircraft have stepped up their island patrols in April to practice maneuvers aimed “to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Last week, the PLA even released a video showing its fighter jets patrolling the skies near the island nation. “The video is to let Chinese people of all ethnic groups, especially compatriots in Taiwan and overseas Chinese, understand that not a single inch of China will ever be separated from the motherland,” the Chinese air force said.
Relations between Beijing and Taipei have deteriorated since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in May 2016. China suspects the leader is seeking to push for formal independence. Beijing, which has always maintained its 'One China' policy, sees Taiwan as part of the country and is wary of Washington's support for the island.
In March, US President Donald Trump signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act (HR 535), which aims to deepen ties between the US and Taipei by allowing travel and visits “at all levels,” including state officials and business leaders, both on the American and the Taiwanese side. Earlier in April, the State Department reportedly approved the marketing license for defense companies to sell technology to Taiwan that will enable it to build its own domestic submarines.
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