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US State Department Approves Taiwan's Bid to Buy Military Equipment

M1-A2SEP Abrams tanks participating in a platoon qualifying exercise near the DMZ. (Photo: VOA / Steve Herman)

Updated: July 9, 2019 2:35 p.m.

VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.

The U.S. State Department has approved a request by Taiwan to purchase an estimated $2.2 billion worth of military equipment.

The deal, announced Monday by the Defense Department's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, includes 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, 250 Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and over 1,500 anti-tank missiles. The agency said the package would not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The U.S. government said the proposed sale is consistent with U.S. law and policy.

"This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient's continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability," a State Department official told VOA.

"The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region," added the official.

In Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen expressed appreciation for the deal, saying the defensive weapons provided by the U.S. will boost Taiwan's self-defense capabilities and deter potential military threats.

In a tweet Tuesday, Tsai said Taiwan will continue to invest in national defense, defending democracy while promoting regional peace and stability.

Reaction from China

The potential deal has angered China, Taiwan's bitter cross-Strait rival. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called on the U.S. Tuesday to "immediately cancel" the deal, saying it "seriously violates the one-China principle ... grossly interferes in China's internal affairs and undermines China's sovereignty and security interests."

Geng also said China has filed formal complaints with the U.S. through diplomatic channels.

The two sides split after the 1949 civil war when Chaing Kai-shek's Nationalist forces were driven off the mainland by Mao Zedong's Communists and sought refuge on Taiwan. But Beijing considers the self-ruled island part of its territory and has vowed to take control of it, by force if necessary.

The U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, but U.S. presidents are bound by law to supply it with arms and come to its defense.

The agreement also comes amid the Trump administration's ongoing trade dispute with Beijing, with the two nations exchanging back-and-forth tariffs on each other's goods since last year.

Praise for announcement

The U.S. announcement of the possible military sales to Taiwan was welcomed by the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, an organization dedicated to developing the trade and business relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan.

Council President Rupert Hammond-Chambers 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 (PLA) forces that coerce and threaten Taiwan."

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have been strained since President Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in 2016 and refused to accept the concept of China and Taiwan joined together as "one China."

Beijing has since mounted an aggressive posture toward Taipei, such as carrying out military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, blocking Taipei's participation in international organizations, and persuading several nations to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China.