The United States has approved the potential sale of howitzer artillery systems to Taiwan in a deal valued at up to $750m, the Pentagon has announced, prompting condemnation by China.
The State Department approval announced on Wednesday followed arms sales to the island last year that included drones and coastal missile defences meant to upgrade Taiwan’s capabilities and discourage a possible invasion from China, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if needed.
The package would include 40 155mm M109A6 medium self-propelled howitzer artillery systems, 1,698 precision guidance kits for munitions, spares, training, ground stations and upgrades for Taiwan’s previous generation of howitzers, the Pentagon said.
The administration of President Joe Biden has approved other direct commercial sales of arms to Taiwan since taking office in early 2021, and has sought to further deepen ties with the island, sparking outrage from Beijing.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale on Wednesday.
Like most nations, the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is required by a 1979 law to provide the self-ruled island with the means to defend itself and is its most important international backer.
Despite approval by the State Department, the notification does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.
If such a deal is formalised, Congress could also legally pass a law blocking the sale, although there has been little political will to stop US arms sales to Taiwan in recent years as both Republicans and Democrats have largely prioritised what they call confronting Chinese aggression.
On Thursday, Taiwan’s defence ministry expressed “sincere gratitude” to the US government, saying in a statement the sales would help its ground forces increase their “capacity for speedy reaction and fire support”.
The ministry called the continuous US arms support a “basis for maintaining regional stability”.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry said it was “firmly opposed” to the sales and has lodged “stern representations” to Washington, according to comments by a spokesperson on the ministry’s website.
The spokesperson said the sales “interfered” in China’s domestic affairs and warned that Beijing would take countermeasures as the issue develops.