China Threatens Sanctions Against U.S. Companies for Selling F-16 Fighters to Taiwan

A US-made F-16 fighters jets through the air during an scramble take off at the eastern Hualien air force base on January 23, 2013. The Taiwan air force demonstrated their combat skills at the Hualien air base during an annual training before the coming lunar new year. AFP PHOTO / …
SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday threatened to impose sanctions against American companies involved in a proposed $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, instructing the United States to “immediately back away” from the sale.

The U.S. State Department approved the sale of 66 F-16 fighters to Taiwan on Tuesday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that President Donald Trump has approved the sale as well.

Pompeo said the F-16 sale is “consistent with past U.S. policy” and “deeply consistent with the arrangements, the historical relationship between the United States and China.” 

U.S. analysts said the new fighter jets would enhance Taiwan’s defensive capabilities and its ability to integrate with U.S. armed forces, but would not alter the regional balance of power.

China immediately rejected these arguments. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday said the arms sale would “severely violate” agreements between China and the U.S. and would “constitute severe interference in China’s internal affairs.”

“China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its own interests, including imposing sanctions on U.S. companies involved in this arms sale to Taiwan,” he threatened on Wednesday.

Geng demanded the United States “stop selling weapons and having military contact with Taiwan,” or else “bear all the consequences.”

Rand Corp. analyst Derek Grossman told NPR the Chinese threat of sanctions is “quite vague.”

“If you recall last month after the U.S. sold $2 billion worth of Abrams tanks to Taiwan, China similarly threatened sanctions, but nothing has really transpired thus far,” he noted.

“The firms involved in building the F-16s, they don’t do a whole lot of business in China, and so how that is going to impact those companies’ bottom lines is to be determined,” Grossman added.

Bloomberg News pointed out that the F-16V variant that will be sold to Taiwan is a significant improvement over its existing fleet of older fighters, but the U.S. decided not to sell the even more advanced F-35 fighter to Taiwan.

A spokesman for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen described the F-16 sale as a “significant gesture for security in the Taiwan Strait and regional stability and peace,” suggesting the symbolic value of the sale as a renewed American commitment to protect Taiwan against Chinese aggression.

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