The United States approved a $180m sale of heavyweight torpedoes to Taiwan, the State Department said on Wednesday, in a move that is likely to further strain ties between Washington and Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own.
The US framed the sale as a mutually beneficial transaction.
“This proposed sale 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 State Department said.
The sale “will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region,” it added.
The MK-48 Mod 6 Advanced Technology Heavy Weight torpedoes, which can be launched from a submarine are being provided from existing US Navy stock, the State Department said.
Taiwan has evolved into one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies since the end of China’s civil war when the losing Nationalists retreated to the island to set up a rival government to the Communists on the mainland.
Beijing, however, continues to see Taiwan as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its aims.
Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 in order to recognise the government in Beijing as China’s only legitimate ruling body, but it is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself and remains the island’s main supplier of weapons.
The US announcement came on the same day that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took her oath of office for a second time, indicating that while Taiwan and China should talk, she would never accept China’s claims of sovereignty over the island. China retorted that it would never tolerate independence for Taiwan and that “reunification” was inevitable.
China has stepped up manoeuvres around the island in recent months, sending fighter jets across its airspace and warships around its sea.
It has also warned countries away from supporting the island, telling France that a weapons deal with Taiwan would damage French-Chinese relations.
The deal is related to the 1990s sale of French warships to Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese press, which at the time led to a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Beijing.