Taiwanese sailors walk in front of a frigate as President Tsai Ing-wen inspects troops on the Penghu islands amid high tensions with Beijing

US approves $1.1 billion arms deal to Taiwan, angering China

Taiwanese sailors walk in front of a frigate as President Tsai Ing-wen inspects troops on the Penghu Islands amid tensions with Beijing – Copyright AFP OLEKSANDR GIMANOV

Sean TANDON

On Friday, the United States announced a $1.1 billion arms package for Taiwan, pledging to keep bolstering the island’s defenses as tensions escalate with Beijing, which warned Washington of “countermeasures.”

The sell-off came a month after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made a defiant visit to the self-governing democracy, prompting mainland China to launch a show of force that could be a test run for a future invasion.

The package – the largest for Taiwan approved under President Joe Biden’s administration – includes $665 million to support contractors to maintain and upgrade the Raytheon early warning radar system, which has been in operation since 2013 and will warn Taiwan of an impending attack.

Taiwan will also spend about $355 million to buy 60 Harpoon Block II missiles, which can track and sink incoming ships if China launches a water attack.

The weapons also include $85.6 million for more than 100 Sidewinder missiles, which are the mainstay of Western military forces because of their air-to-air firepower.

The announcement comes a day after Taiwanese forces shot down an unidentified commercial drone amid a sudden wave of mysterious incursions that have harassed the island following an earlier show of force by Beijing, which said it fired ballistic missiles over the capital Taipei.

China, calling Taiwan an “inalienable” part of its territory, urged the US to “immediately withdraw” the arms sale.

“This sends the wrong signal to the separatist ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and seriously jeopardizes Sino-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said Liu Penyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

“China will resolutely take legal and necessary countermeasures in light of the evolution of the situation,” he said.

– “Required” for Taiwan –

The State Department spokesman who approved the sale said the package was “essential to Taiwan’s security” and stressed that the United States still only recognizes Beijing, not Taipei.

“We call on Beijing to stop military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan,” the spokesman said.

The sales “are routine in support of Taiwan’s ongoing efforts to modernize its military and maintain a robust defense capability,” a spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity per protocol.

“The United States will continue to support the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues in accordance with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan,” he said.

The sale requires the approval of the US Congress, which is virtually guaranteed since Taiwan enjoys strong all-party support.

Ahead of Pelosi’s visit, who is second in line to the White House, Biden officials quietly told China that she does not represent the administration’s policies, as Congress is a separate and equal branch of government.

The arms endorsement, by contrast, clearly comes from the Biden administration, although it is consistent with sales since 1979, when the United States switched recognition to Beijing but agreed to keep Taiwan’s ability to defend itself.

Biden, on a trip to Tokyo in May, appeared to break decades of US policy by saying that the United States would defend Taiwan directly if it was attacked, though his aides later retracted his remarks, insisting that US policy remained ambiguous.

China considers Taiwan a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary. Nationalist Chinese set up a rival government in Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war on the mainland, though the island has since grown into a vibrant democracy and a major technology hub.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised more questions about whether China can follow suit on Taiwan and whether the island can defend itself.

In a July speech, CIA chief Bill Burns said Chinese President Xi Jinping remains determined to take control of Taiwan, but Russia’s troubles in Ukraine may have prompted Beijing to wait and see if it can gain an overwhelming military advantage.

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