The US State Department has approved the sale of $330m worth of military parts to Taiwan, according to officials, drawing fierce condemnation from China.
The self-ruled island, which Beijing considers part of its territory, will receive standard spare parts for several aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets and C-130 cargo planes, the State Department said in a statement on Monday.
China on Tuesday demanded the US cancel the sale, warning of “severe damage” to bilateral relations if it does not comply.
“We urge the US side to…immediately cancel this arms sale plan, and stop military contact with Taiwan so as to avoid severe damage to China-US ties, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and bilateral cooperation in major fields,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters.
In a statement, China’s defence ministry warned that the sale “interfered in China’s internal affairs and harmed China’s sovereignty and security interests.”
The US Congress has 30 days to raise objections to the sale, though this is unlikely given the State Department has determined Taiwan continues to be “an important force for political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region”.
Washington remains Taipei’s most powerful unofficial ally and its main arms supplier despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949, but China claims it as part of its territory and has threatened to invade the island to reunite it with the mainland.
China has stepped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan since the Beijing-sceptic President Tsai Ing-wen took office two years ago, including staging a series of military exercises near the island.
Taiwan on Tuesday welcomed the US announcement, saying it would help the island strengthen its defence capabilities.
“As Taiwan faces gradually heightened threats, the US arms sales would … also boost Taiwan’s confidence in strengthening self-defence to help maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Taiwan’s presidential office said the island’s government would continue to increase its defence investment and “maintain close communication and cooperation” with the US on security issues.
The approval of the sale comes amid heightened tensions between China and the US over a range of issues.
Beijing, which sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting unification, has been irritated by recent warming ties between Washington and Taipei, including the approval by the US State Department of a preliminary licence to sell submarine technology to the island.
China and the US are also at odds over China’s wooing of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
Washington recently imposed sanctions on a branch of the Chinese military over its purchase of fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing and the postponement of military talks.
The Trump administration has also escalated a trade war with China, most recently imposing tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods on Monday. That move brought the value of Chinese goods hit by tariffs to $250bn, around half of China’s exports to the US.
China retaliated to the latest US tariffs by imposing duties on $60bn worth of US goods.
On Tuesday, a Chinese official said that China cannot hold talks with Washington while the US “holds a knife” to Beijing’s throat.