The State Department approved an arms sale to Taiwan on Wednesday that includes weapons capable of striking mainland China’s coastal areas. It is the first time since Washington cut off diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 that the US is providing the island with meaningful offensive weapons systems.
The $1.8 billion package includes 135 AGM-84H cruise missiles with a striking range of more than 168 miles (270km), and 11 truck-based rocket launchers along with 64 missiles that can reach up to 186 miles (300km). The sale also includes sensor pods for Taiwan’s fighter jets.
Mei Fu-hsing, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center, a New York-based think tank, told The South China Morning Post that the offensive nature of the weapons is a “breakthrough” for Taiwan.
Taiwan has a large fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan, told the Post that Taiwan would be the first US security partner to carry AGM-84H cruise missiles using F-16s. The professor said that while the weapons are the first “offensive” ones to be sold to Taipei in over four decades, “they are primarily for deterrence purposes.”
On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said US arms sales to Taiwan should end. Zhao said the sales “severely damage China-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” He also said China “will make a legitimate and necessary response.” Earlier this year, Beijing sanctioned US weapons maker Lockheed Martin over sales to Taiwan.
The Trump administration has taken other steps to increase ties with Taiwan, raising tensions in the region with Beijing. In August, US Health Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, making him the highest-level US official to travel to the island since 1979. Azar’s visit was followed by one from US Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach.
Krach’s trip sparked an increase in flights from Chinese warplanes near Taiwan’s airspace. US military flights in the region have significantly increased this year. Earlier this week, the US flew a spy plane directly over the island of Taiwan, a rare move that is likely meant to send a message to Beijing.