Trump administration approves $1.8 billion in Taiwan arms sales as Joe Biden praises Taiwanese democracy

Foreign Affairs

Even if the Trump administration, which initiated the more pro-Taiwan policy in recent months, is succeeded soon by a Biden administration, Joe Biden seems on the same page regarding Taiwan.

Taiwanese soldiers in Taichung, Taiwan on January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Yesterday, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the American agency that oversees foreign weapons sales, announced that the U.S. State Department had approved three significant batches of arms sales to Taiwan. The total value of the weapons is estimated to be $1.81 billion.

  • Just over $1 billion of that is for 135 Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) Missiles and related equipment, one press release said, adding, “The principal contractor will be the Boeing Company.”
  • About $436 million will be for 11 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and related equipment, another press release said, for which the prime contractor is Lockheed Martin.
  • About $367 million is for reconnaissance equipment and training, a third press release said, with the principal contractor named as Collins Aerospace.

These weapons sales have been expected for weeks, but are the largest this year and come amid a significant strengthening of U.S. ties to Taiwan — see last month on SupChina, U.S. increases high-level Taiwan contacts as Pentagon plans large weapons sale.

Beijing is not pleased, of course. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 said (English, Chinese) that the move “seriously interferes in China’s internal affairs…sends out gravely wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces and severely undermines China-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Zhao called on the U.S. to cancel the arms sales, or China would “make a legitimate and necessary reaction.”

What’s next?

The U.S. is unlikely to change its mind about being friendlier towards Taiwan. Even if the Trump administration, which initiated the more pro-Taiwan policy in recent months, is succeeded soon by a Biden administration, Joe Biden seems on the same page regarding Taiwan.

  • “We’re a Pacific power, and we’ll stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Asia-Pacific region,” Biden wrote in an op-ed published today in both Chinese and English in World Journal, the largest Chinese language newspaper in the United States.
  • Biden added: “That includes deepening our ties with Taiwan, a leading democracy, major economy, technology powerhouse — and a shining example of how an open society can effectively contain COVID-19.”
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent think tank in Washington, D.C., released a task force report yesterday that recommended the U.S. upgrade its relationship with Taiwan across multiple dimensions.

Other countries could get involved in pushing back on China’s pressure on Taiwan.

  • “Support is growing within India’s government to formally start talks on a trade deal with Taiwan as both democracies see relations with China deteriorate,” Bloomberg reported this week.

Limited military conflict remains an unlikely, but non-zero possibility. For more, see: