The United States has acceded the potential sale of $1.1bn in weapons to Taiwan, the Pentagon revealed, in a move that will likely worsen already heightened feud between Washington and Beijing.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency disclosed on Friday that the arms package would consist of 60 anti-ship missiles, 100 air-to-air missiles and contractor logistics support for a surveillance radar programme.
US news outlet Politico first published earlier this week on the potential US weapons trade. While Congress can still turn down the sale, it is unlikely to do so as US lawmakers from both major parties are strongly in support of Taiwan.
A spokesperson for the US Department of State, which approved the trade, stated that the package was “essential for Taiwan’s security”.
“These proposed sales are routine cases to support Taiwan’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the spokesperson said.
The Pentagon’s declaration comes amid strained relations between the US and China, which has not ruled out the use of force to take over Taiwan, a self-governed island that China sees as part of its territory.
China called on Friday for the US to “immediately revoke” the arms trade.
Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, said Beijing would react.
“It sends wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces and severely jeopardizes China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
“China will resolutely take legitimate and necessary counter-measures in light of the development of the situation.”
Taiwan’s defence ministry expressed gratitude to the US, noting that China’s recent “provocative” operations represented a serious threat and the arms sale would help it counter China’s military pressure.
“At the same time, it also demonstrates that it will help our country strengthen its overall defence capabilities and jointly maintain the security and peace of the Taiwan Strait and the Indo-Pacific region,” the ministry said in a press release.
‘Playing with fire’
The US is mandated by law to provide Taiwan with the means to protect itself, and President Joe Biden has revealed that Washington would use force to protect the island if it is attacked.
The relationship between Washington and Beijing has deteriorated in the past few years as the US prioritized strategic competition with China in its foreign policy under former President Donald Trump, a position fully welcomed by Biden.
Meanwhile, China has cautioned the Biden administration that it is “playing with fire” over Taiwan.
China carried out an unprecedented military drills in the sea and air around the island after a contentious trip last month by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Beijing had threatened “serious consequences” if Pelosi – the highest ranking US official to travel to Taiwan in 25 years – went ahead with her trip.
Ross Feingold, an Asia political risk analyst, informed Al Jazeera that the US has secured weaponry to Taiwan for “many, many decades”, but the timing of the new trade had “political or public relations value” coming despite heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing.
“To be frank this sale is relatively small”, Feingold said, speaking from Taipei, and said that the bulk of the sale is related to the maintenance of existing radar facilities.
Feingold stated that China is likely to react, and has already started with statements.
Beijing could also, he said, commence more attacks in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, start new military exercises, prohibit certain Taiwanese products from being shipped to China, enforce sanctions against US and Taiwanese government officials, or take action against US companies doing business in China.
“So China always has the options, of using any of those tools. It won’t stop this particular weapons sale though,” he said.
On Thursday, Taiwan’s military stated that it shot down an undisclosed civilian drone that entered its airspace near the outlying Kinmen islands, which sit next door to China’s Xiamen city.
While China blamed Taiwan of trying to “hype up tensions” over the incident, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang defended the military’s actions as “appropriate” after repeated warnings.
Su informed reporters that Taiwan had consecutively asked China “not to encroach on our doorstep”.
“They repeatedly ignored our warnings to leave and we had no choice but to exercise self-defence and shoot,” Su said. “This is the most appropriate reaction after repeated restraint and warnings.”
The US State Department spokesperson disclosed on Friday that Washington “will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan”.
“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan,” the spokesperson said.