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Wall Street Journal sows uncertainty over US arms deal to Taiwan

Reporting anonymous sources, WSJ claims White House worried over impact of arms deal on US-China trade negotiations

White House

White House

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Wall Street Journal is sowing doubt about the possibility of U.S. President Donald Trump meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 Summit in Osaka, predicting only a 50 percent chance that a meeting will happen.

In an article entitled "Trump Administration Is Split Over Arms Sale to Taiwan," the Wall Street Journal is also creating uncertainty over a recently announced US$2.6 billion arms sale to Taiwan confirmed by the Pentagon earlier this month.

The report cites three anonymous sources within the White House that say U.S. officials are worried that Xi Jinping will use the arms deal as a pretext to rebuff the U.S. president’s attempt to negotiate on trade.

The report contradicts recent statements of President Donald Trump, who has confidently threatened that if Xi Jinping fails to attend the summit in Osaka or if there is no tangible progress with China, then the U.S. is prepared to implement a massive new sanctions program targeting US$300 million worth of Chinese imports.

The unnamed source suggests that the weapons sale to Taiwan is in jeopardy because of concern over the diplomatic fallout that could result from the sale.

However, the concern voiced by the Wall Street Journal's anonymous source does not seem to reflect the general character of Donald Trump in regards to past trade negotiations, nor the trend of warming ties between Washington and Taipei under the Trump administration for that matter.

The report mentions John Bolton as one advisor in the White House who is a major proponent of completing the arms sale to Taiwan, which includes 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile systems.

Another of the unnamed sources quoted in the report claims that in March 2018, Trump “lashed out” using an expletive after discovering that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong had made a visit to Taipei. Trump then reportedly ordered that no American diplomats travel to Taiwan while trade negotiations are ongoing with China.

Shortly after this episode was purported to have happened in the White House, the State Department dispatched the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs to Taipei in June 2018 to attend the opening of the new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) facility, a US$250 million investment reflecting the importance of the Taiwan-U.S. relationship.

Then in May 2019, for the first time since Taiwan and the United States ended formal diplomatic relations in 1979, the two countries' national security chiefs, David Lee (李大維) and John Bolton, met each other in Washington.

Just this past week, military officials and intelligence officers representing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made a visit to Taipei, including FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate, the highest-level official from the U.S. intelligence services to ever visit Taiwan.

If there was any Trump-ordered moratorium on U.S. officials visiting Taiwan or meeting Taiwanese counterparts, it seems to have been rescinded.

Notably, the Wall Street Journal report does not mention that the Department of Defense has recently acknowledged Taiwan as a country as stated in their recent Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, which is likely a stronger signal for Washington’s support of Taiwan than anecdotes from three unnamed, anonymous officials purported to be working in the White House.