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27 Mar 19. Taiwan president, seeking tanks and fighters, says U.S. responding positively. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday the United States was responding positively to Taipei’s requests for new arms sales to bolster its defences in the face of growing pressure from China. Speaking during a stopover in Hawaii at the end of a Pacific tour, Tsai told Washington’s Heritage Foundation think tank via videolink that Taiwan had submitted new requests to the United States for M-1 Abrams tanks and F-16V fighter jets. These, she said, “would greatly enhance our land and air capabilities, strengthen military morale and show to the world the U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s defence.”
The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms. On Sunday, Washington sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the narrow strait separating the island from the mainland, part of an increase in the frequency of U.S. movement through the strategic waterway to show support for Taipei.
Tsai said mounting pressure from China for Taiwan to accept a “one country, two systems model” and its attempts to alter the cross-straits status quo underscored the need for Taiwan to “increase our self defence and deterrence capabilities.”
“Fortunately … Taiwan does not stand alone,” she said. “The United States’ commitment to Taiwan is stronger than ever.”
Tsai said she felt the process of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan had become less politicized, adding: “We are able to have frank discussions with the U.S. on the right equipment for Taiwan’s defence and the U.S. is responding positively to our request.”
She said big-ticket defence items would be managed though a special budget and Taiwan’s regular defence budget would “increase based on challenges coming across the strait.”
Tsai’s Pacific tour has come amid heightened tension between Taipei and Beijing, which has stepped up diplomatic and military pressure to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan.
China suspects Tsai and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party of pushing for the island’s formal independence.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in January that Beijing reserved the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control, but would strive to achieve peaceful “reunification.”
Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and has heaped pressure on Taiwan internationally, including whittling by down its few remaining diplomatic allies. Tsai stressed that Taiwan sought positive relations with Beijing, but China needed to talk without preconditions. She said developments in Hong Kong were not encouraging.
“One country, two systems will become just one country,” she said. “The two systems do not seem to be respected that much. So I think the experience of Hong Kong teaches the Taiwanese a lot.”
Tsai said earlier this month that Taiwan has sent a request to the United States to buy an unspecified number of F-16s, a move that could add another irritant to Beijing-Washington ties.
Last week, U.S. China hawk Peter Navarro, director of the White House’s Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, wrote in the New York Times that Taiwan may soon buy 108 M-1 tanks.
Tsai, who faces re-election in January, has repeatedly called for international support to defend Taiwan’s democracy in the face of China’s renewed threats.
Her Hawaii stopover, a customary practice for Taiwanese presidents, has drawn criticism from Beijing.
This week, Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation seeking to boost Taiwan ties, which among other things would direct the Pentagon to make efforts to include Taiwan in military training exercises and expresses congressional support for regular U.S. arms sales.
Tsai visited three diplomatic allies in the Pacific, part of an effort to prevent Taiwan’s 17 remaining allies from switching allegiance to China. Four of the six Pacific island nations aligned with Taiwan have elections this year. On Monday, Nauru’s parliament passed a resolution supporting Taiwan’s democracy and opposing Beijing’s “one-China” policy after Tsai made a speech there. She also visited Palau and the Marshall Islands during her eight-day trip in which she offered support to the agriculture sectors of the island nations. (Source: Reuters)
25 Mar 19. Stoltenberg confirms Georgia ‘will join NATO.’ NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reiterated the bloc’s commitment to grant the former Soviet Republic of Georgia eventual membership, despite Moscow’s fierce opposition. He was in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, on 25 March, to attend 12-day joint NATO-Georgia military exercises that kicked off last week. Mr Stoltenberg said: ‘The 29 allies have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO. We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership.’ In an apparent reference to Russia, he said that no country had the right to influence NATO’s open-door policy.
‘We are not accepting that Russia, or any other power, can decide what (NATO) members can do.’
At a 2008 summit in Romania, NATO leaders said Georgia would join the bloc at an unspecified future date but have so far refused to put the country on a formal path to membership.
The prospect of Georgia joining NATO is seen by the Kremlin as a Western incursion into its traditional sphere of influence.
Georgian Prime Minister Manuka Bakhtadze said that Moscow had no right to prevent a sovereign country from choosing ‘its security arrangement.’
He said: ‘Membership is the choice of the Georgian people and is enshrined in our constitution.’
Held at the Krtsanisi Georgia-NATO Joint Training and Evaluation Centre outside Tbilisi, the joint drills involve 350 servicemen from the US, Britain, France, Germany and 17 other allied nations as well as Azerbaijan, Finland, and Sweden. Tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow over Georgia’s pro-western trajectory and control of the Black Sea nation’s breakaway regions led to a brief but bloody war in 2008.
During the conflict over the Moscow-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia routed Georgia’s small military in just five days and recognised the independence of the breakaway territories.
Moscow then stationed military bases there in what the West and Tbilisi have denounced as an: ‘illegal military occupation.’
Last year, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Georgia’s eventual NATO entry ‘could provoke a terrible conflict’. (Source: Shephard)
25 Mar 19. Oman allows US military to use its ports. Oman on 24 March said it had signed an agreement with the US that would allow American ships and warplanes to take advantage of ports and airports. The state-run Oman News Agency said the ‘framework agreement’ was aimed at bolstering ‘Omani-American military relations’ in a report on its English-language website. It will allow the US forces to take advantage from the facilities offered at some of the Sultanate’s ports and airports during visits of the US military vessels and aircrafts, particularly in the port of Duqm,’ it said. Duqm port is located in southern Oman on the Arabian Sea and around 500km from the Strait of Hormuz.
At the mouth of the Gulf, the strait is crucial to global energy supplies, with about a third of the world’s seaborne oil passing through it every day.
Shiite Iran has repeatedly threatened to block the strait due to tensions with Sunni-ruled Gulf nations, including its main regional rival Saudi Arabia. The narrow waterway is also an international transit route where US forces routinely pass and which has seen tense encounters between them and Iranian forces in the past. The US has a number of military bases across the Gulf – the largest in Qatar with about 10,000 troops.
The US-Omani deal was signed by the defence ministries of both countries.
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