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Washington sends arms sales official to US-Taiwan military event

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 04/10/2022 Lawrence Chung
  • Speech by Laura Cressey is first by a State Department representative at annual conference since 2011
  • Her attendance coincides with a push by US senators for US$6.5 billion in military aid for the island

The US government has sent a senior official in charge of arms sales to the closed-door annual US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference, in a sign of Washington's firm commitment to the self-ruled island's defence amid growing military threats from Beijing.

Laura Cressey, director of the office of regional security and arms transfers under the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, is expected to make a keynote speech at the two-day conference's closing session in Richmond, Virginia on Tuesday.

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Cressey's attendance will make her the first State Department official to address the event since 2011, and the first from the bureau in charge of arms sales, including to Taiwan, according to Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, which organises the conference.

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The event coincides with a push by a group of US senators to include US$6.5 billion in military aid to Taipei in the bipartisan National Defence Authorisation Act for fiscal 2023 to tackle challenges from the People's Liberation Army.

"I think it's a demonstration of how important [the Biden government] feels this issue is that they are here, and not just here in presence to listen, but also to come and talk about what they feel is important and to hear back from us about how we can help support what they want to do," Hammond-Chambers said on Monday before the conference opened.

He pointed out that in the past 11 years, officials from the State Department's Asia-Pacific affairs bureau had attended without making any speeches.

According to the conference's agenda, Jedidiah Royal, principal deputy secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, also gave a speech on the first day of the event.

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Taiwanese deputy defence minister Wang Shin-lung, who is representing the island at the event, said the first day had included candid exchanges of views among the panel.

"In the closed-door meetings, we have had candid exchanges concerning the obstacles and possible risks we are facing in terms of US arms sales, while the US side pledged [to do] its best in helping Taiwan solve these problems," he said, according to Taiwan's semi-official Central News Agency.

Wang said Taipei and Washington had reached a consensus concerning Taiwan's military build-up, with a focus on asymmetrical warfare. The most important task for the island was to make the most of every dollar it spent on defence, he said.

"How we make the best use of our limited defence budget in a timely fashion to boost Taiwan's capabilities in the coming years will be the most critical task we face."

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Like most countries, the US does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but is opposed to any attempt to take the island by force - something Beijing has not ruled out for what it considers part of its territory.

The first session at the major military meeting between the US and Taiwan examined the threat to the island in light of the Russia-Ukraine war and discussed what lessons could be learned by Beijing, Taipei and Washington.

Attendees then reviewed the US industry's understanding of the trajectory for Taipei's defence planning in the short, medium and long term.

The conference's third session dealt with non-traditional engagement efforts between the US and Taiwan, including training, logistics and industrial cooperation.

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Next was a focus on measures to help improve the island's defensive posture, with the fifth and final session examining the potential deterrence role of US partners, including Japan and Australia, in the event of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

Meanwhile, in Washington, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez told Defence News he was leading the charge to include the Taiwan Policy Act as an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act, which the Senate is expected to start debating this month.

"We will do as much as we can on the Taiwan Policy Act in the NDAA. That's our goal."

The legislation, which cleared the Senate committee last month, would significantly bolster US ties with the island, giving it the same benefits as a "major non-Nato ally" while expediting arms sales and prioritising weapons transfers.

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At a meeting of the legislature in Taipei on Tuesday, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng welcomed US support.

"We certainly welcome whatever military aid from the US, but in building up forces and combat readiness, each country has its own method based on different situations," he said.

He added that his ministry would spend any funds provided "properly", but this would not mean it would follow whatever was suggested by the US in changing its basic military build-up methods.

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