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US State Dept. approves potential sale of Howitzer systems to Chinese Taipei

The file photo shows soldiers in Chinese Taipei firing self-propelled howitzers during military exercises near Hsinchu City, in the northern part of the breakaway Chinese island. (By AP)

The US State Department has approved the potential sale of 40 Howitzer artillery systems to Chinese Taipei, which would be the first sale of arms to the self-governed Chinese island under US President Joe Biden and will likely inflame further tensions with Beijing.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Pentagon said that the US State Department had notified Congress of its approval of a proposal to sell 40 155mm Howitzer artillery units to Chinese Taipei in a deal valued at up to $750 million.

The provocative potential sale would also include a number of armored vehicles, machine guns, and 1,698 precision guidance kits to convert projectiles into more precise GPS-guided munitions, the statement added.

Through its Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Pentagon also notified Congress of the possible sale, which is certain to be denounced by Beijing.

The potential sale must go through a congressional review process before being negotiated between Chinese Taipei and the prime contractor for the weapons, BAE Systems Plc, which is also providing the US Army with the latest version of the howitzer. Then, a contract would be signed and delivery times would be hashed out.

Last year, the US also sold arms to Chinese Taipei that included drones and coastal missile defenses aimed at upgrading the island’s capabilities against mainland China.

In a statement on Thursday, Chinese Taipei’s defense ministry expressed “sincere gratitude” to Washington, saying the sales would help its ground forces boost their “capacity for speedy reaction and fire support.” It also called the continuous US arms support a “basis for maintaining regional stability.”

Chinese Taipei falls under China’s sovereignty, and under the “One China” policy, almost all world countries — the US included — recognize that sovereignty. But, in violation of its own stated policy and in an attempt to irritate Beijing, Washington has maintained and recently ramped up its diplomatic contact with the self-proclaimed government in Chinese Taipei. Washington is also the island’s largest weapon supplier.

According to a report by Chinese Taipei’s National Audit Office on Thursday, Washington has sent weapons experts to Chinese Taipei in the last two years to support tests of the US Patriot missiles sold to the island. The 2020 official financial audit report inadvertently revealed that Chinese Taipei’s air force budgeted $14.15 million for the project to enable American experts and officials to go to the island over four years to support the air force and other agencies.

Since 1997, Chinese Taipei has bought at least 400 of the missiles from the US.

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