While much of the focus of President Donald Trump’s G-20 summit had to do with Europe, his trip could have big implications for Asia as well.
The escalating tensions with North Korea, and the lack of demonstrable Chinese efforts in curbing North Korean efforts, are likely to be a continuing topic of conversations between Trump and President Xi Jinping of China.
Any conversation between the leaders will also occur in the wake of the recently announced U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.
The arms sale, the first by the Trump administration, is for $1.4 billion in assorted systems, including SM-2 Standard surface-to-air missiles, Mk 48 torpedoes, conversion and upgrade kits for Taiwan’s Mk 46 torpedoes, electronic warfare kits for its surface ships, and a variety of contractor support in areas such as logistics, maintenance, and training.
Interestingly, the contract also includes a number of Joint Standoff Weapons and High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. These are systems that would be essential for degrading Chinese air defenses in the event of a conflict. This would, in turn, allow both Taiwanese and American aircraft to survive in the face of some of the densest air defenses in the world.
Beyond the specific weapons in the arms sale, the decision to greenlight such a sale within the first six months of the new administration is an important indicator that Trump seems to understand the importance of the American commitment to Taiwan.
There was concern, after the Mar-a-Lago summit in April with Xi, that Trump might ignore American commitments to the island in favor of building relations with Beijing.
Of even greater concern was that he might view the entire issue of Taiwan simply as a bargaining chip.
The decision to proceed with an arms sale early in his administration, coupled with reports that the American Institute in Taiwan, the main American diplomatic representation on the island, might receive a contingent of U.S. Marines, suggests otherwise.
Indeed, it would seem that the president has an eye toward marrying the concrete and the symbolic; a Marine contingent would not constitute a fundamental alteration of American policy, but would clearly reflect a change in outlook.
The sale of $1.4 billion of American equipment will not make Taiwan a military juggernaut, but also indicates that the president takes the longstanding American commitment to Taiwan seriously.