US clears sale of $180m anti-tank systems to Taiwan

Taiwan says the sale will boost the island’s capacity for ‘asymmetric warfare’ amid escalating tensions with China.

The Pentagon has been given the green light for the sale of anti-tank systems to Taiwan [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

The US State Department has approved the possible sale of Volcano anti-tank mine-laying systems to Taiwan for an estimated $180m, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid mounting tensions between the self-governing East Asian island and China.

The Volcano system, developed by the US army in the 1980s, uses prepackaged mine canisters which contain multiple anti-tank mines which are dispersed when ejected from the canister.

Northrop Grumman and Oshkosh Corporation are the prime contractors for the potential sale.

US law requires the executive branch to notify Congress of potential arms sales that are more than a certain amount. But these notifications are usually not made unless lawmakers have given the State Department and the Pentagon informal approval to move ahead.

The potential deal comes as China ramps up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan to assert its sovereignty claims, including almost daily Chinese air force missions near the island during the past three years. Tensions spiked earlier this year after US Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan despite China’s opposition to the trip. Beijing views Taiwan as a part of China.

On Monday, China sent its largest-ever contingent of planes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the de facto maritime border between the two. A day later, Taiwan extended its mandatory military service duration from four months to a year.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement that the sale of the Volcano would take effect in about a month and that the system would help boost the island’s “asymmetric warfare” capacity to make its forces more agile.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s frequent military activities near Taiwan have posted severe military threats to us,” the ministry said, adding that continuous US military sales are the “cornerstone of maintaining regional stability and peace”.

The US is Taiwan’s most important international partner and provides most of its arms. China has pledged to take the island by force, if necessary. Taiwan strongly rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claim and says it will defend itself if attacked.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies