Biden administration approves its first arms sale to Taiwan


The US State Department notified Congress on Wednesday of a proposal to sell some US$750 million of weapons to Taiwan, all but finalising what will be the first arms sale to the self-governed island by US President Joe Biden’s administration.

Included in the proposed sale are 40 self-propelled artillery units, a number of other armored vehicles, machine guns, and almost 1,700 kits to convert standard artillery shells into smart weapons that can steer themselves towards targets.

The sale of the self-propelled artillery vehicles, known as howitzers, would “contribute to the modernisation of Taiwan’s howitzer fleet, strengthening its self-defence capabilities to meet current and future threats,” a State Department representative said in emailed comments.

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The proposal, brought forth under the State Department’s Foreign Military Sales programme, will require the approval of Congress, which has united around the need for US support of Taiwan on a largely bipartisan basis.

In addition to congressional approval, the proposed sale will also need to undergo final negotiations between Taiwan and BAE Systems – the US contractor providing the howitzer weapons – according to a congressional notification posted by the State Department.

The proposed sale was first reported by Bloomberg.

As well as furthering Taiwan’s goal of updating its military capabilities, the sale would also enhance its “interoperability with the United States and other allies”, the State Department wrote in its notification.

Yet while serving as a clear signal of US support for Taiwan, the arms sale would “not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the notification added.

US$340 million buys Taiwan hi-tech surveillance of Beijing’s navy

News of the arms sale comes at a time of especially fraught relations between Washington and Beijing, which claims Taiwan as sovereign territory to eventually be brought under its rule.

Past military sales to Taiwan by Washington have elicited forceful condemnation from Beijing, which claims that such support undermines China’s sovereignty and is in violation of the “three US-China communiques” – joint statements that included an agreement by the US to gradually decrease arms sales to the island.

Following the approval of some US$1.8 billion of weapons to Taiwan last year under the Trump administration, Beijing announced sanctions against a number of involved US contractors and individuals for their “egregious role in the process”.

The newly proposed bundle comes atop numerous other approved sales in recent years, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets, anti-ship missiles, long-range land attack missiles, and aircraft-mounted reconnaissance sensors.

While Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, recent years have seen increasing efforts by the US to align itself with the island in the face of what it considers aggressive behaviour by China’s military in the region.

During a recent tour of Southeast Asia, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin accused Beijing of “destabilising military activity and other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan.”

“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened,” said Austin, speaking in Singapore last week. “Yet we do not seek confrontation.”

As well as public expressions of support for Taiwan, the first few months of Biden’s presidency have also seen the administration dispatch an unofficial delegation to the island and roll out new guidelines to enable US officials to meet more freely with Taiwanese representatives.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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