TAIPEI (Reuters) – Former U.S. defence secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday he would take back to Washington D.C. concerns expressed in Taiwan about the speed of arms sales to the island and the need to get greater access to weapons like portable missiles.
Taiwan has previously talked of problems accessing some weapons it has on order, like shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Taiwan has complained of stepped up military pressure from China to force it into accepting Beijing’s sovereignty claims.
The missiles are in hot demand in Ukraine, where they have been keeping Russian aircraft at bay, but U.S. supplies have shrunk and producing more of the anti-aircraft weapons has faced significant hurdles due to limited manufacturing capacity.
Esper, visiting Taiwan under the auspices of the Atlantic Council think-tank and where he had meetings with senior leaders including President Tsai Ing-wen, said he did not get the sense Taiwanese officials were frustrated at what arms were on offer from Washington.
“I didn’t pick up any frustration other than the speed at which we conduct arms sales,” he told reporters in Taipei. “There was an expression of the need to get greater access to weapons such as the Javelin and the Stinger.”
The Javelin is an anti-tank weapon that Taiwan also uses, and is being used in Ukraine.
“I think there was a concern about the supply chains and supply lines. That’s an issue that my delegation and I decided to take back and to share with the right people in D.C.”
Esper served from 2019 through 2020 under former President Donald Trump, whose administration approved billions of U.S. dollars in arms sales to Taiwan.
The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but has also been prodding the government to focus more on asymmetric warfare – where a smaller force employs unconventional tactics against a larger enemy – using more mobile weapons, to make the island harder to attack, something Tsai has said she is prioritising.
Esper said Taiwan was never going to be able to match China in terms of conventional power, and Taiwan should be studying how Ukraine has fought Russia using asymmetric strategies.
“You don’t do asymmetric warfare with fighter jets. That doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a more comprehensive strategy, but you have to build the asymmetric capabilities first.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christopher Cushing)