On Wednesday, Aug. 23, the Department of State approved a potential $500 million arms sale to Taiwan for infrared search and track systems of the island's F-16 fighter jets. The principal contractor for the deal is Lockheed Martin.
According to the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the sale is to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwan's de facto embassy in the United States. Washington and Taipei don't have formal diplomatic relations.
Congress could block the potential deal, but there is widespread bipartisan support for arming Taiwan and virtually no opposition. In fact, U.S. lawmakers have been pressuring the Pentagon and the White House to send weapons to Taiwan. They think that providing Taipei enough weaponry would deter Beijing from attacking the island.
Just last month, the Biden administration provided Taiwan with $345 million in military aid using the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA). The PDA allows the American government to send weapons straight from Pentagon stockpiles, which is also the primary way the U.S. has been arming Ukraine.
The package includes defense, education and training for the Taiwanese. Two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Washington will send man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, intelligence and surveillance capabilities, firearms and missiles.
Taiwan's representative office in the U.S. said the Biden administration's decision to pull arms and other materiel from its stores provided "an important tool to support Taiwan's self-defense." It pledged to work with the U.S. to maintain "peace, stability and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait."
Using the PDA to arm Taiwan is unprecedented as the U.S. has been selling weapons to the island nation since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979. This did not sit well with China, which immediately issued stern rebukes to the new form of U.S. support for Taiwan.
In 1982, the U.S. and China issued a third joint communiqué on their freshly normalized ties regarding U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
The communiqué said that the U.S. government intended "gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution." But U.S. officials at the time made clear they were leaving the commitment open to their own interpretation.
In an internal memo released on the same day the communiqué was issued, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan said: "The U.S. 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 U.S. foreign policy."
China has increased military pressure on Taiwan in recent years, but the activity has primarily been a response to the U.S. increasing its diplomatic and military support for Taiwan. (Related: China carries out military drills around Taiwan in "serious warning" after US House Speaker visit.)
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