The United States has tentatively approved the sale of $2 billion in military hardware to Taiwan, demonstrating support for its unofficial ally in a move likely to exacerbate deteriorating ties between Washington and Beijing.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, part of the United States Defense Department, notified Congress of two proposed arms sales on Monday. The first notification included 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, as well as Hercules armored vehicles and heavy equipment transporters. The second included more than $220 million in Stinger antiaircraft missiles.
The tentative approvals come as relations between the United States and China are already being tested by a trade war and the decoupling of technology supply chains. The armaments would provide Taiwan with greater deterrence capabilities against the growing military threat from China, experts said.
“These tanks and missiles will provide the Taiwan army with a modern capability to deter and complicate the operational planning of the People’s Liberation Army forces that coerce and threaten Taiwan,” Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said in a statement on Monday. “They will also offer new opportunities to engage in cooperation with the United States in both the deployment and operations phases.”
United States lawmakers have 30 days to object to the sale, but they are considered unlikely to do so. The approvals come as Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, prepares for a trip this week to North America, a visit that could further anger Beijing. The Taiwanese government said her first stop would be New York.
The United States broke formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan’s government in 1979 in order to establish relations with China’s Communist government, which claims the self-governing island as its territory and has threatened to unify it with the mainland by force. Shortly after the end of the formal alliance, along with the American military presence there, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires that the United States provide Taiwan with weapons of a defensive nature to deter an attack from China.
In 1982, the United States broadened its support with a document known as the Six Assurances, the first of which stated that Washington would not set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan.
Chang Tun-han, a spokesman for Ms. Tsai, welcomed the news of the tentative arms sales approvals on Tuesday.
“The American government continues to take concrete actions to fulfill its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances, assisting Taiwan in strengthening its defensive capabilities,” Mr. Chang said in a statement. “We express our deepest gratitude.”
At a regularly scheduled news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Geng Shuang, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, expressed opposition to the sales, saying they could harm relations between China and the United States.
China has already expressed displeasure with Ms. Tsai’s plans to spend a total of four days in the United States, part of a trip in which she will also visit diplomatic allies in the Caribbean. Taiwan’s deputy foreign minister, Miguel Tsao, announced on July 1 that Ms. Tsai would spend two nights in the United States before and after visiting the Caribbean countries of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti from Thursday to July 22.
In addition to the recently approved arms packages, Taiwan in late February also requested 66 F-16V fighter jets from the United States. And in April, Washington approved a $500 million package that included F-16 parts and training.
Mr. Hammond-Chambers of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council said the Trump administration, with broad support from Congress, had moved to regularize and normalize arms sales to Taiwan, reflecting “a sound and responsible policy that will maximize the deterrent nature of a modern, well-equipped Taiwan military capable of complicating and deterring any actions by the P.L.A.”
An official with Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he expected the F-16 sales to go forward, saying that ties with Washington under the Trump administration were the strongest since official diplomatic relations ended 40 years ago.