While China has long opposed US arms exports to Taiwan, the Trump administration’s latest sales are worrying to Beijing for another reason: They show a greater alignment among the two democracies on the so-called “hedgehog” strategy to resist an invasion.
The US weapons mark a notable shift in approach from the flashier warplanes and tanks traditionally favoured in Taipei that were more vulnerable to an attack from Beijing. In the last two weeks, the State Department signed off on the $2.4 billion sale of 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems anti-ship missiles and $1.8 billion worth of extended-range land attack mobile missiles, as well as surveillance and reconnaissance sensors.
The move cements a transition towards greater asymmetric warfare capabilities long recommended by US defense analysts and included in Taiwan’s own defense strategy since 2017.
That plan seeks to inflict more damage on Chinese forces crossing the Taiwan Strait in an invasion, while limiting Beijing’s ability to wipe out Taiwan’s defenses and air force with a barrage of targeted missiles.
Taiwan views the weapons as purely defensive, part of a gradual shift to a “hedgehog” or “porcupine” strategy that would see the island strengthen its defenses while deterring a Chinese attack that might lead to a wider nuclear conflict with the US that could devastate the region. President Donald Trump has increased ties with Taiwan, including signing a law in 2018 that called on the US to make annual assessments of Taiwan’s defense needs and boost the island’s force readiness.
“This arms sale is quite important and crucial to Taiwan,” Wang Ting-Yu, a Taiwanese lawmaker in the ruling party who co-chairs the island’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, told Bloomberg Television. “We need to defend ourselves, so when we develop our capability we try to be hedgehog-like. When a lion tries to swallow a hedgehog, it will hurt — so no lion will try to swallow a hedgehog.”
Wang said the latest weapons will help raise the cost of war with China.