China has threatened to “make legitimate and necessary responses” after the United States approved the potential sale of $1.8bn worth of advanced weapons systems to Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday said the US – in approving the arms sale – was violating agreements signed in the 1970s that established diplomatic relations between the two countries.
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The weapons sale includes 135 air-to-ground missiles that Taiwan’s defence ministry said would build its combat capabilities amid increasing threats by China to annex the territory by force if necessary.
The US move is “sending a very wrong signal to separatist forces advocating for Taiwan independence, and seriously damages China-US relations”, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a regular news briefing.
Zhao said China would “make a legitimate and necessary response depending [on] how the situation evolves”.
Beijing has ramped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of the “One China” policy.
Chinese fighter jets and bombers have entered Taiwan’s air defence zone with increasing frequency in recent months, while propaganda films have shown simulated attacks on Taiwan-like territories.
China has also launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at courting Taiwan’s few official allies, and Taipei now has diplomatic relations with just 15 national governments globally.
Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa welcomed the latest US arms sale earlier on Thursday, saying while Taiwan did not want to get involved in an arms race with China, it needed a credible military.
Speaking to reporters, Yen said the sales were to help Taiwan improve their defensive capabilities to deal with the “enemy threat and new situation”.
“This includes a credible combat capability and asymmetric warfare capabilities to strengthen our determination to defend ourselves,” he added.
Previous US administrations have been wary of big-ticket arms deals with Taipei for fear of fuelling anger in Beijing, but President Donald Trump has made a tough stance against China a central theme of his campaign for re-election on November 3.
As well as seeking closer ties with Taiwan, the US has tightened restrictions on Chinese media and imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, companies and government agencies for their actions in Tibet, Hong Kong and the disputed South China Sea.