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US approves first arms to Taiwan under foreign aid program amid rising tensions with China

Two US-made F-16 V fighter jets are seen on the runway at an air force base in Taiwan's Chiayi county on March 25, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

US President Joe Biden’s administration has approved its first-ever arms aid to Taiwan under a foreign military assistance program typically used for sovereign nations, infuriating China which views the self-ruled island as part of its territory.

The Biden administration on Wednesday approved the transfer of $80 million worth of military equipment to Taiwan under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which will be paid for by US taxpayers.

“FMF will be used to strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities through joint and combined defense capability and enhanced maritime domain awareness and maritime security capability,” the State Department said in its notification to Congress, as reviewed by CNN.

The FMF program generally involves grants or loans to sovereign countries, but Washington claims that the military package, which is smaller than recent sales to Taiwan, does not imply any recognition of the sovereignty of Taiwan. 

"Consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and our longstanding One China policy, which has not changed, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability," Reuters quoted an unnamed State Department spokesperson as claiming on Wednesday.

China has sovereignty over the Chinese Taipei, and under the "One China" policy, almost all world countries, including the US, recognize that sovereignty. However, Washington has long courted Taipei in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.

Furthermore, Washington, which backs Taipei’s secessionist president, also infuriates Beijing by selling weapons to the self-governed island in violation of its own official policy.

The new military assistance to Chinese Taipei needs approval from Congress, which is virtually certain as legislators from both parties widely support the self-ruled island.

In a brief statement on Wednesday, Chinese Taipei’s defense ministry expressed gratitude for the military assistance, claiming, “The aid will help in regional peace and stability.”

China, however, as was expected, responded firmly to the military aid, saying on Thursday that Beijing is resolutely against US weapons supplies to Taiwan.

“China is resolutely opposed to military ties between the United States and Taiwan and weapons supplies. This is our consistent and unequivocal position,” Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, told TASS.

“The United States should adhere to the One-China principle and three joint communiqués between China and the US and stop sending weapons to Taiwan or create new pretexts that may escalate tensions in the Taiwan Strait and stop posing risks to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," he stressed.

Separately, CNN quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday as expressing “strong dissatisfaction” and “firm opposition” at the arms sale.

Wang further said at a press conference that the new military package had harmed “China’s sovereignty and security interests” and undermined “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”, urging Washington to “cease enhancing US-Taiwan military connections and arming Taiwan” and “stop creating tensions across the Taiwan Strait.” 

China describes Taiwan as the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with the US, and the topic remains a constant source of friction between Beijing and Washington.

Last August, China deployed warships, missiles, and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest show of force in years, following a trip to the island by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

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