AAV-P7A1 amphibious assault vehicles of the Taiwan Marine Corps
The U.S. administration formally notified Congress on Wednesday of a $1.83 billion arms sale package for Taiwan, including two frigates, anti-tank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles and other equipment, despite opposition from China.
The authorization came a year after Congress passed legislation approving the sale. It is the first such major arms sale to Taiwan in more than four years.
The White House said there was no change in the longstanding U.S. "one China" policy. Past U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan have attracted strong condemnation in China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.
A spokesman for the White House's National Security Council said the authorization followed previous sales notifications by the administration totaling over $12 billion under the Taiwan Relations Act.
"Our longstanding policy on arms sales to Taiwan has been consistent across six different U.S. administrations," the spokesman, Myles Caggins, said, while adding: "We remain committed to our one-China policy."
Although Washington does not recognize Taiwan as a separate state from China, it is committed under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensuring Taipei can maintain a credible defense.
The new sales come at a period of heightened tensions between the United States and China over the South China Sea, where Washington has been critical of China's building of man-made islands to assert expansive territorial claims.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said this week that Beijing opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as "an interference in China's internal affairs."
Hong said such sales "damaged the peaceful development of ties across the Taiwan Strait and Sino-U.S. ties and said Beijing urged Washington "to earnestly recognize the high sensitivity and serious harm of weapons sales to Taiwan."
David McKeeby, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the package was aimed at "supporting Taiwan’s efforts to develop more innovative and asymmetric defensive capabilities."
He said it included two Perry-class guided-missile frigates; $57 million of Javelin anti-tank missiles made by Raytheon(RTN.N) and Lockheed Martin(LMT.N); $268 million of TOW 2B anti-tank missiles and $217 million of Stinger surface-to-air missiles made by Raytheon, and $375 million of AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles.
The State Department said the frigates were being offered as surplus items at a cost of $190 million. The package also includes $416 million of guns, upgrade kits, ammunition and support for Raytheon's Close-in Weapons System.
Analysts and congressional sources believe the delay in the formal approval of the sales was due to the Obama administration's desire to maintain stable working relations with China, an increasingly powerful strategic rival but also a vital economic partner as the world's second-largest economy.
Most recently the administration was working with Beijing to forge a landmark global climate agreement that was sealed on Saturday after two weeks of intense negotiations.
While Taiwan has been overshadowed recently as a U.S.-China issue by the South China Sea, it has the potential to flare up again, especially with Taiwanese elections coming up next month.
Taiwan is to elect a new president, with Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning opposition Democratic Progressive Party the favorite to win. China has warned it will never accept an independent Taiwan.
U.S. Republican lawmakers said on Wednesday they were pleased the administration had authorized the sale but called for a more regular process for such transactions.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this would "avoid extended periods in which fear of upsetting the U.S.-China relationship may harm Taiwan’s defense capabilities."
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom; addtional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Susan Heavey and Andrew Hay)