The United States government has approved a potential $500m sale of military equipment to Taiwan, a move likely to stir simmering tensions with China.
Nevertheless, in a statement (PDF) on Wednesday, the US Department of State sought to quell concerns about the proposed sale, which would include infrared search-and-track systems, munitions support and equipment for F-16 fighter jet programme.
“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the State Department said in its news release.
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The sale is set to be negotiated with the defence and aerospace company Lockheed Martin. A final deal has not yet been signed.
Hours before the announcement, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen visited a memorial on Kinmen Island, where Taiwan and Chinese forces fought in August 1958 during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis.
To mark the anniversary of the crisis, Tsai reiterated her plans to bolster Taiwan’s defences.
“In order to keep the peace, we need to strengthen ourselves,” she said. “As such, we need to continue to reform the national defence, push for self-reliance, strengthen our defence capabilities and resilience.”Those defence ambitions, however, clash with China’s stance towards Taiwan. It considers the self-governing island part of its territory and has hinted it may use force to bring Taiwan under its control.
The US, meanwhile, has not had formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979, when it chose to instead recognise Beijing as the government of China.
That recognition came with an acknowledgement of Beijing’s “One China” policy, which asserts China’s claim over Taiwan.
But Washington has not taken an official position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, and it continues to have informal relations with the island, including through military aid and sales.
Just last month, the US approved $345m in military aid for Taiwan. It marked the first time US President Joe Biden used his presidential drawdown authority to transfer military supplies from the Pentagon to Taiwan, similar to what has been done for Ukraine.
Biden has indicated several times that the US would defend Taiwan in the event of an “unprecedented attack”.
Tensions between his administration and that of Chinese President Xi Jinping have soared in recent months, particularly as prominent Taiwan officials passed through the US.
China has denounced these “transit” stops as opportunities for Taiwan officials to meet with their US counterparts. But the US has dismissed the transits as routine layovers, warning China against “overreacting“.
And Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai passed through the US earlier this month, during a trip to attend the inauguration of Paraguay’s new president.
Those visits prompted China to put its military on “high alert”. It responded to Lai’s recent stops in New York City and San Francisco by organising war games around Taiwan, as a “stern warning” to the island’s separatist forces.