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Mark Esper, also the Pentagon chief, announced the US’ intention to take a bigger share of the global arms deal market. The Trump administration official warned of China and Russia’s influence, and called on the defence industry to take action through increasing arms exports. It comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up responses to Beijing and Moscow this year, with nuclear treaties with Russia lapsing and heavy sanctions issued to China.
The defence secretary addressed the Atlantic Council think tank on Tuesday, calling on the defence industry to ramp up US sales of weapons to allied countries.
Mr Esper suggested increased arms sales would help increase allied nations protections against the US’ “primary competitors” in China and Russia.
He said: “[We] must compete with China and Russia, whose state-owned industries can fast-track military exports in ways that we cannot – and would never want to in many cases.”
“As Beijing and Moscow work to expand their share of the world’s weapons market, they attract other countries into their security networks, challenge the United States’ efforts to cultivate relationships, and complicate the future operating environment at the same time.”
In order to boost the US’ ability to compete against China and Russia, Mr Esper said the defence department could reform with a strategic enterprise approach to weapons sales, after allied countries have attacked the US’ system as “too slow, opaque and complicated”.
He suggested this would include “early exportability” for critical weapons systems and a prioritisation of countries that are needed to keep or capture key markets.
The defence department currently has a system that will “track the most important cases moving along the process to ensure our partners get the equipment and systems they need, when they need them”, according to Mr Esper.
He added: “Moreover, it will prioritise cases that enhance lethality and interoperability with the US, enable the domestic industrial base, and deny market space to China and Russia.”
In 2019, the US sold over $55 billion in weapons and arms for the second year in a row, with majority of those being new contracts with foreign countries.
It comes as the US has already began striking deals with countries in the South China Sea, including Taiwan and the Philippines, to counter Beijing’s efforts in the region.
So far this year, the US has approved the sale of 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan for around $8 billion.
The Trump administration has also fast-tracked three more arms deal proposals with Taiwan, offering the island country anti-aircraft weapons and other advanced weaponry.
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The Taiwan arms deals follow China carrying out a simulated invasion exercise in a grim warning to the island country.
China hit back at the US for Mr Esper’s new arms deal strategy, calling it a “serious strategic misjudgement’.
Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, claimed the US was wrong to define Beijing as a rival and claimed they were sending resources to the wrong areas.
Beijing also attacked the US for its “obsolete Cold War mindset and zero-sum” mindset, and called for diplomatic discussions.
It also follows the US failing to agree new terms for the last remaining nuclear treaty with Russia.
The New START programme is set to expire in February, with both Washington and Moscow refusing to budge on terms for renewal.
Vladimir Putin has expressed his willingness to renew the treaty on the condition no new limits are introduced on the amount of nuclear warheads Russia can make, which Washington regarded as a “non-starter”.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in reply: “The United States made every effort. It is disappointing that the Russian Federation backtracked on an agreement covering all nuclear warheads for the first time.”
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