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Between F-16 sale to Taiwan, Hong Kong and tariffs, China has no reason to trust US

Between F-16 sale to Taiwan, Hong Kong and tariffs, China has no reason to trust US
Word that US President Donald Trump is pushing for a sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan worth $8 billion is unlikely to help a ‘deal’ with China, as Beijing’s already blaming Washington for the Hong Kong protests and the tariff war.

The proposed sale of 66 modernized jet fighters is still a rumor, as no official notice has been sent to Congress from the State Department or the Pentagon as of yet. However, it appears to have been requested by the Taiwanese authorities and quickly endorsed by prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“The sale of F-16s to Taiwan sends a strong message about the US commitment to security and democracy in the Indo-Pacific,” the chairman and ranking member of the  House Foreign Affairs Committee said on Friday in a joint statement, adding they are “pleased the Administration is moving forward” with it. 

Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have also praised it as an important step.

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Taiwan is ruled by descendants of Chinese nationalists who lost the civil war in 1949 and sought refuge on the island under US protection. It was recognized as the Republic of China until 1971, when the UN recognized Beijing as the only legitimate Chinese government.

Fearing an invasion from the mainland, Taiwan has been on a weapons buying spree in the US recently, with a $2.2 billion sale of over 100 M1A2T Abrams tanks and portable air defense missiles approved just last month. On Thursday, Taipei announced a massive increase in its military spending, with the 2020 budget amounting to just over $13 billion.

Beijing has threatened to impose sanctions on any US companies involved in the tank and missile transaction, following the long-standing US policy of economic arm-twisting, and would presumably extend that threat to the F-16 deal as well, given its size and scope. 

Also on rt.com China threatens sanctions against US companies selling weapons to Taiwan

The timing of the deal couldn’t be worse for Sino-US relations, either. Protests in Hong Kong over proposed extraditions to the mainland, which began in late March, are showing no signs of ending despite the authorities’ concessions. In fact, the emboldened protesters recently took over the international airport and clashed with police, while waving American flags. 

While Trump has repeatedly denied any US role in the protests – and his administration has been far more reserved about Hong Kong than US public opinion – the Chinese authorities and media appear to be convinced that they are seeing another US-backed “color revolution” at work.

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All of this is happening against a backdrop of a trade war that has steadily escalated over the past two years. Trump has recently threatened new tariffs as of September, then delayed them to December as a gesture of good will. Beijing has remained furious and threatened retaliation anyway, suggesting that a deal Trump keeps talking about is not happening any time soon. 

US pressure on anyone doing business with Iran is also chafing Beijing. The cumulative frustration with all these disputes has even resulted in talk – unconfirmed, of course – of a “nuclear option”: dumping some or all of $1.4 trillion worth of US Treasury bills currently owned by China. It is widely understood that this would trigger stock market chaos and another financial crisis, maybe even crashing the dollar. 

While China takes the trade war extremely seriously, territorial issues are a matter of national pride, and a sore spot for over a century. Tariffs are an acceptable bargaining chip in this game, things like Taiwan and Hong Kong are not. The lack of understanding for this in Washington goes beyond Trump and his administration. 

While another $8 billion looks good in view of the $15 billion worth of weapons deals between the US and Taiwan since 2010, it would be chump change in comparison to sacrificing trillions of dollars and earning Beijing’s everlasting enmity. 

By Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic is a Serbian-American journalist and political commentator, working at RT since 2015

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