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US sells Patriot upgrade package to Taiwan to deter ‘regional threats’

In this picture taken on February 20, 2020, a member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia. (Photo by AFP)

The United States has approved a request from Taiwan to modernize the self-ruled island’s Patriot surface-to-air missile systems to counter what it claims as "regional threats", amid escalating tensions between Beijing and Washington.

The US State Department said on Friday that Taiwan had requested to buy an estimated $620 million upgrade package for its Patriot missiles “in order to support an operational life of 30 years.”

The Department said Lockheed Martin would be the main contractor and explicitly announced that the sale would not only serve US interests but strengthen Taiwan’s military in the face of “regional threats” — in a veiled rebuke of China.

“This proposed sale serves US national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the US State Department said.

“The recipient will use this capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen homeland defense. The recipient will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces,” it added.

Taiwan’s defense ministry confirmed the report and said the arms sale — the seventh by the US administration to the island — is expected to take effect within the next month.

China has sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, and under the “One China” policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty, saying the island is part of China’s territory awaiting reunification.

The US, too, recognizes Chinese sovereignty over the island but has long courted Taipei in an attempt to counter Beijing.

Washington, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taipei by law, is the island’s largest weapons supplier and an avid backer of Taiwan's secessionist president Tsai Ing-wen, causing increasing tensions with Beijing over trade and a host of other issues.

Washington almost regularly makes provocative moves around the self-governed island, particularly by sailing its warships through the sensitive and strategic Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan from China.

The provocative moves draw angry reaction from China, which has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its full control.

Beijing is also at odds with Washington over its support for riots in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong, which has been the scene of unrest over the past months due to a now-revoked extradition bill and a new security law.

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