The US State Department has approved a possible US$750 million weapons sale to Taiwan, the government said on Wednesday in a notification to Congress, reports Kyodo news
The announcement prompted a swift objection from Beijing and will likely add pressure to already strained US-China relations.
The potential deal includes self-propelled howitzer artillery systems and related equipment and serves “US national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency under the Defense Department said in a news release.
The move follows a series of US arms sales to Taipei as China steps up its military and diplomatic pressure against what is sees as a renegade province.
On Thursday, the Chinese government voiced strong opposition to the potential arms sale, saying it has “lodged a stern protest” with Washington.
The foreign ministry urged Washington to immediately withdraw the deal and indicated that otherwise Beijing would take countermeasures.
The administration of former president Donald Trump had notified Congress of 20 proposed major foreign military sales cases for Taiwan, with a combined value of over US$18 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued in July.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, which Congress passed in 1979 after the US switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Washington maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan and supplies the island with arms and spare parts to maintain its self-defence capabilities against a Chinese attack.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the latest proposed sale of the artillery system will help enhance Taiwan’s “ability to meet current and future threats” while “further enhancing interoperability with the US and other allies”.
It added that the weaponry will “not alter the basic military balance in the region”.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Thursday expressed appreciation for the US move, describing the latest development as the first arms sale since Biden took office in January.
The decision demonstrates Washington’s commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act and allows the island to maintain a “rock-solid self-defence, and regional peace and stability”, the ministry said on Twitter.
Beijing and Taipei have had a rocky relationship for decades but relations have deteriorated further since independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s president in 2016.
In recent years, fears have been mounting that the leadership of President Xi Jinping will sooner or later try to achieve its cherished goal of reuniting the perfidious island with the mainland.
Xi has never been shy of saying he will do so by force if necessary.