Taiwan’s government has signalled it will abandon plans to buy advanced anti-submarine helicopters from the United States, saying the price is too high.
The self-governing island, which China claims as its territory, had previously said it planned to buy 12 MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters made by Lockheed Martin Corp unit Sikorsky.
Local media has reported the US had rejected the sale as not being in line with the island’s needs.
But asked in parliament about recent changes to Taiwan’s purchases of new US weapons, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Thursday that the “price is too high, beyond the scope of our country’s ability”.
The update comes as US and Taiwanese officials have been increasingly pushing the island to modernise its military so it can become a “porcupine” that will be difficult for China to attack.
President Tsai Ing-wen has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare”, which involves developing high-tech, highly mobile weapons that are hard to destroy and can deliver precision attacks.
But recent developments, notably the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have made that goal more difficult.
Two other arms purchases have been delayed – M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer artillery systems and mobile Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Shipments of both weapons have been promised to Ukraine as part of the $3.7bn in direct military aid pledged by Washington since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The Stingers, manufactured by Raytheon Technologies, are in particularly high demand in Ukraine, where they have been used against Russian aircraft. However, US supplies have shrunk and there are significant hurdles to producing more of the anti-aircraft weapons.
Chiu said Taiwan had already signed the contract for the Stingers and paid for them, and the government would press Washington to deliver them.
“We don’t view arms sales as a trifling matter, and we have back-up plans,” he added, without elaborating.
Taiwan has said the US has offered alternatives to the Howitzer artillery systems, including truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin called the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS.
Chiu said they were still considering their options.
Meanwhile, China has been ramping up its own military modernisation and pressure on Taiwan as it seeks to force the democratically-governed island to accept Beijing’s rule.
Chiu said there had recently been many “enemy ships” in the waters around Taiwan, which “in principle stand off” with Taiwanese forces, although he did not give further details.
Eight Chinese naval vessels, including the aircraft carrier the Liaoning, passed between islands in Japan’s southern Okinawa chain on Monday, an area that is to Taiwan’s northeast.