The State Department on Wednesday approved a potential $500 million arms sale to Taiwan for infrared search and track systems for the island’s F-16 fighter jets.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the sale is to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US, as Washington and Taipei don’t have formal diplomatic relations. The principal contractor for the deal is Lockheed Martin.
The State Department’s approval begins a period where Congress could block the potential deal, but there is widespread bipartisan support for arming Taiwan and virtually no opposition.
The approval came almost a month after the Biden administration provided Taiwan with $345 million in military aid using the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA), which allows the US to send weapons straight from Pentagon stockpiles, the primary way the US has been arming Ukraine.
Using the PDA to arm Taiwan is unprecedented as the US has sold weapons to Taiwan since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979 but has never financed the purchases or provided arms free of charge. China issued several stern rebukes to the new form of US support for Taiwan.
The deal approved on Tuesday will also draw a rebuke from Beijing as China opposes all US arms sales to Taiwan. In 1982, the US and China issued a third joint communiqué on their freshly normalized ties regarding US arms sales to Taiwan.
The communiqué said that the US government intended “gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution.” But US officials at the time made clear they were leaving the commitment open to their own interpretation.
On the same day the communiqué was issued, President Reagan said in an internal memo that “the US willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the Taiwan-PRC [People’s Republic of China] differences. It should be clearly understood that the linkage between these two matters is a permanent imperative of US foreign policy.”
In recent years, China has increased military pressure on Taiwan, but the activity has primarily been a response to the US increasing its diplomatic and military support for Taiwan, which Beijing views as a violation of the conditions of the US-China normalization.