The United States has added to a list of pending weapons shipments to Taiwan by approving $619 million worth of munitions and equipment for the island’s American-made fighter jets.
The State Department informed Congress on Wednesday that Taipei’s request to purchase hundreds of air-to-air and anti-radiation missiles for its fleet of F-16 aircraft had been approved. The notification from the executive branch to the legislature is a formality; the Biden administration green-lit 13 such foreign military sales in 2022—the most in a single year in the last two decades, a US official said this week.
Communist Party leaders in Beijing have never ruled Taiwan but claim it as part of Chinese territory. The democratically elected government in Taipei rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims, but the decades-long standoff is tipping in China’s favor because of its rapid military buildup in the last 10 years.
Washington ended formal relations with Taipei in 1979. However, bound by the Taiwan Relations Act of the same year, it remains the island’s largest arms supplier and is obliged to assist with its self-defense to deter aggression. Beijing argues the US sells weapons to Taiwan to contain China.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which handles foreign military sales, said the latest sale “serves US national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” according to a statements.
“The proposed sale will contribute to the recipient’s capability to provide for the defense of its airspace, regional security, and interoperability with the United States,” the DSCA said.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that the sale could take effect after one month. It thanked the US for helping Taiwan address the “severe military threat” posed by China, including the near-daily warplane, warship and drone activity in the airspace and waters around the island.
Senior US officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken have warned that a conflict across the Taiwan Strait could have a devastating impact on the global economy, given the commercial traffic that passes through the waters and Taiwan’s dominance in high-end chipmaking.
Defense planners in Washington say Taipei’s best bet is to acquire enough asymmetric weaponry—like that used to great affect by Ukraine against Russia—to deter a Chinese invasion.
The DSCA statement lists the sale’s principal contractors as Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin. Beijing sanctioned both companies in February for “undermining China’s sovereignty and security.” The White House described the measures as symbolic.
Taiwan’s air force is awaiting delivery from Lockheed Martin of 66 new F-16 jets by the end of 2026 as part of a 2019 deal worth $8 billion. Once deliveries are completed, Taiwan’s fleet of more than 200 F-16s will be the largest in the region.
But while Beijing’s hard power increases at a blistering pace, Taipei says its force modernization has been plagued by delays from American suppliers. Lawmakers in Congress have cited a backlog of weapons worth some $19 billion.
Once arms sales are approved, delivering them can take years, and Taiwan has cited consistent delays in receiving weapons it has purchased.
“There are production and delivery delays worldwide, not just for Taiwan, but for other partners. We’re working expeditiously to get through those,” Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said Tuesday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill.
“But I would also say, sometimes I think that the notion that there is a long backlog—some of that can also be misleading because when we notify to Congress the intent to have a sale, it does take some time for the companies to then negotiate those contracts and implement them,” said Rep. Young Kim, a California Republican. “But I can assure you we’re doing everything that we can.”
The Biden administration has approved more than $5 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, Kritenbrink said. Congress has been notified of $21 billion in arms sales to Taiwan since 2019, and $37 billion since 2010, the State Department official said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded to the news on Thursday by saying it “harms China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
“China will continue to take resolute and strong measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty and security interests,” Mao said.
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