US risks angering China as it approves $360m weapons sale to Taiwan

The US has approved arms sales worth $360m to Taiwan, a decision that is likely to escalate tensions with China.

The Joe Biden administration will supply Taiwan with hundreds of armed drones, missile equipment, and related support material.

The drone package includes 291 Altius 600M systems, which are unmanned aerial vehicles with warheads, and 720 Switchblades, which function as “extended-range loitering munitions”, the State Department said.

The sale “serves US national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability”, it said.

The weapons package will “help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region”.

The sale comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan president Lai Ching-te (EPA)
Taiwan president Lai Ching-te (EPA)

Taiwan’s president last week accused China of seeing the “annexation” and “elimination” of the island as “its great national cause”.

In his inaugural speech in May, Lai Ching-te had urged China to “accept the reality” of Taiwan’s de facto independence.

In response to Mr Lai’s inauguration as president, China conducted significant military exercises around the island.

Beijing has labelled Mr Lai a “dangerous separatist”.

China considers Taiwan a part of its territory and president Xi Jinping has threatened to “reunite” the island with the mainland by force if necessary, while the democratically-elected government of Taiwan says only the island’s people can choose their future.

Beijing’s claim to be the only legitimate Chinese government is known as the One China Principle, and this has been accepted or acknowledged by all but a handful of nations who would otherwise risk being cut off from trading with the mainland. The US formally acknowledges the One China Principle but maintains close informal relations with Taiwan, and does not accept Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over the island.

According to the Financial Times, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that the US was goading Beijing to attack Taiwan.

This article was amended on 25 June 2024 to clarify the status of the One China Principle. An earlier version incorrectly referred to this as the One China Policy.