Pentagon official slams incursions by Chinese jets
Update: Sept. 19-Fleet of 19 Chinese warplanes flies near Taiwan in pincer formation
Washington, Sept. 18 (CNA) The intrusions by 18 Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's airspace on Friday are another example of how the country is increasingly using its military as a tool of coercion against Taiwan, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense has said.
The Pentagon response came after two Chinese bombers and 16 fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait or entered Taiwan's southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ), according to Taiwan's Air Force, which scrambled jets and broadcast warnings to the Chinese military aircraft to leave.
The maneuvers came as U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach was in Taiwan on a three-day visit to attend a memorial service for former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and meet with Taiwanese officials.
The visit by Krach -- the highest ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since the countries broke off formal diplomatic relations in 1979 -- was strongly opposed by China, which sees Taiwan as a part of its territory and discourages any official contact that could elevate Taiwan's status as an independent nation.
In remarks to CNA, Pentagon spokesman John Supple said the "aggressive and destabilizing actions" by China's military reflect "a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history."
"This is another example of (China) increasingly using its military as a tool of coercion with Taiwan and other neighbors," Supple said.
"Taiwan's security -- and its people's ability to determine their future, free from coercion -- remains a vital interest to the United States and is integral to regional security," he added.
Meanwhile, Supple declined to confirm or deny recent media reports that the U.S. is preparing to approve a large arms sale to Taiwan, saying the government does not comment on pending arms sales or transfers before formally notifying Congress.
On Friday, CNN reported that the U.S. is planning to sell seven packages of weapon systems to Taiwan, citing anonymous congressional and administration sources, but said it was unclear when Congress will receive formal notification, as is required by law.
According to one U.S. official cited in the article, the package is expected to include a large sale of MQ-9B Reaper drones, along with associated equipment and program support, at a value of some US$600 million.
The most sensitive portion of the proposed package is a long-range air-to-ground missile, the Boeing-made AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER, which could be used by Taiwan's fleet of F-16s, the New York Times has reported.
After Reuters broke the news of the potentially imminent sale on Wednesday, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense released a statement dismissing the report as "media speculation."
Taiwan's military handles arms purchase deals that are under evaluation or being negotiated, based on the principles of confidentiality and discretion, the ministry said, adding that it only reports such deals to the public after the U.S. State Department has formally notified Congress.
According to the Reuters report, pursuing seven sales at once is a "rare departure" from years of precedent in which U.S. military sales to Taiwan were "spaced out and carefully calibrated to minimize tensions with Beijing."
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