The U.S. Department of Defense announced last Thursday that the Pentagon’s top weapons supplier, Lockheed Martin Corp, has been awarded a $62 billion, 10-year contract for the production of F-16s for Foreign Military Sale (FMS). The initial delivery order is for 90 aircraft.

The 10-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) includes a $4.94 billion order for 90 fighters, 66 of which are going to Taiwan, and 24 are earmarked for Morocco. Funds totaling $3.88 billion were obligated at the time of the award.

The United States’ move to sell aircraft to the Taiwanese comes amid the Communist government’s crackdown on Hong Kong and the PLA’s menacing flights over and around Taiwan.

Shortly after the announcement of the sale of the F-16s to Taiwan was made, the Chinese government-run news outlet, Global Times, referenced the deal in a story about a new standoff weapon designed to attack airbases with bomblets.

“Chinese mainland military analysts said that if a reunification-by-force operation breaks out, the PLA would destroy Taiwan’s airfields and command centres, giving the F-16Vs no chance to even take off, and giving those already in the air no place to land,” Global Times wrote.

Chinese state television has stated that the new Chinese weapon weighs 500kg, and uses winglets to glide over 32.4 nautical miles to a target. Once arriving over a target the weapon deploys 240 bomblets over an area of 1.5 acres. 

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The undesignated weapon can also be used against armored formations and is capable of being launched from several Chinese aircraft.

China has always stated that Taiwan, which has self-ruled since the 1949 government takeover by Mao Tse-Tung and the communists, is a breakaway province. It has threatened to respond with force if the Taiwanese people ever attempt to declare independence. 

Washington has waffled back and forth on this issue. In 1979 the Carter administration severed diplomatic ties with Taipei. However, in 1992, the Bush White House sold 92 F-16 fighters to Taiwan. The Chinese government has warned the U.S. not to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan. 

The move by the Trump administration to sell the F-16s to Taiwan comes at a time of increasing tensions not only between the U.S. and China but also between the Chinese and the Lockheed-Martin.

Last month, the Chinese government threatened that it would impose sanctions on Lockheed Martin in retaliation for a recent $620 million deal to sell missile parts for the  Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) to Taiwan. 

The PAC-3 serves as an interceptor missile system designed to defend against enemy ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft. The missile parts will extend the operational lifespan of the country’s missiles for another 30 years.

After U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan last week, the highest U.S. official to visit the island since 1979, the Chinese responded with a flight of military aircraft, with J-10 and J-11 fighters reportedly crossing the Taiwan Strait median line.

The strait is 90 miles wide at the narrowest point; both Chinese and Taiwanese pilots have respected the boundary. But this time Chinese made a point of crossing the line, calling the visit by U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, “a serious provocation.” 

Global Times made the intentions of the Chinese government cleared in issuing an ominous warning:  

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“The Chinese mainland will not let the U.S, decide when and how to reunify the island of Taiwan, and as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an overwhelming advantage in the region, reunifying Taiwan by force is not urgent as long as the separatist authority on the island and Washington do not cross the red line, said mainland experts on Sunday.”

“However, it seems as if the U.S. is trying to trigger a fight it cannot win… The PLA can launch airborne operations, landing operations, airstrikes and can bomb military targets at the same time. Cyber attacks will paralyze all communication, transportation and even energy supply systems on the island in just a few minutes, and special forces will seize and control some important facilities such as airports to allow reinforcements into major cities on the island. The separatist leaders of the island will be eliminated or captured on the first day, and there is no chance for foreign forces to intervene.”

China has demanded that countries in the South China Sea hold naval exercises only within 12 miles of their respective shore. 

With China trying to assert its dominance in the South China Sea, it appears that the Philippines is wavering in its pushback against Chinese incursion into territory it previously claimed was rightfully Filippino.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has seemingly capitulated to China’s threats. He told his Defense Secretary to not get involved in naval exercises beyond the 12-mile limit. Duterte’s compliance will no doubt embolden Beijing even more. 

With relations between the world’s two leading economic superpowers at their lowest in decades, the polemic rhetoric from both sides does not show signs of diminishing.