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US arms contractors arrive in Taiwan for defence forum

US arms contractors arrive in Taiwan for defence forum
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About 30 US defence contractors have arrived in Taiwan for an unannounced visit to meet Taiwanese political and industrial leaders amid escalating cross-strait tensions.

It is the first visit by representatives of prominent American arms suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, since William Lai Ching-te took office as the island’s leader on May 20. The visit is expected to provoke Beijing, which has repeatedly warned Washington against supplying weapons to Taipei.

The group, accompanied by former US Marine Corps Forces Pacific commander Steven Rudder, arrived in Taipei late on Monday. The visitors are expected to attend the Taiwan-US Defence Industry Forum, which will be held behind closed doors on Thursday, according to the semi-official Central News Agency.

03:11

Mainland China launches PLA blockade around Taiwan, 3 days after William Lai speech

Mainland China launches PLA blockade around Taiwan, 3 days after William Lai speech

Rudder will address the opening of the forum, which has been jointly organised by the Taipei-based Taiwan Defence Industry Development Association and the Arlington-based US-Taiwan Business Council and will be attended by about 150 military experts and representatives from local and US defence companies.

Retired admiral Chen Yeong-kang, now a legislator from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang party, will also deliver a keynote speech during the forum.

Topics to be discussed at the gathering include Taiwan’s domestic warship and warplane projects, drone development and advanced defence technologies and cooperation, CNA reported.

Steven Rudder, previously commander of US Marine Corps Forces Pacific, attends the 2023 Taiwan-US Defence Industry Forum in Taipei. Photo: Reuters

The group will visit Taiwan’s top weapons builder, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, and its chief aerospace company, Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation, to discuss potential cooperation on drones and defence technologies.

They will also meet Lai and his deputy, Hsiao Bi-khim, as well as other senior government officials during their stay in Taiwan, according to CNA.

It marks the fifth such visit by US arms contractors since the first business forum was held in Taiwan in 2018.

In their weeklong visit last year, Rudder, who accompanied about 30 US contractors, told the forum that American suppliers sought dependable partners on the island as they wanted to contribute to Taiwan’s self-defence capability.

Beijing, which sees Taiwan as its territory to be reunified by force if necessary, has expressed serious concerns during each visit by American contractors. It perceives US arms supplies and military cooperation with Taipei as efforts to bolster separatist forces on the island.

The United States, like most countries, does not recognise Taiwan as independent but is opposed to any unilateral change to the cross-strait status quo by force and is committed to supplying defensive weapons to the island.

On May 23, the People’s Liberation Army launched large-scale war games around Taiwan, practising a blockade of the island as a strong “punishment” for Taiwanese separatist forces. This occurred three days after Lai declared in his inaugural speech that Taiwan and the mainland “are not subordinate to each other”.

02:16

Defence ministers from China and US meet on sidelines of Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore

Defence ministers from China and US meet on sidelines of Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore

Beijing’s new defence minister, Dong Jun, issued a fresh warning at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday, stating that “whoever dares to split Taiwan from China will be crushed to pieces and invite their destruction”.

He emphasised that Beijing was committed to “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, but this prospect was being “undermined by Taiwan separatists and external forces”.

Other US contractors taking part in the visit include manufacturer of uncrewed aircraft systems, AeroVironment, aerospace and defence technology provider Northrop Grumman and uncrewed surface vehicle builder MARTAC.

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