The Cable

Trump Comes Through for Taiwan With $1.3 Billion Arms Sale

The State Department notified Congress of the sale, relieving concerns about a prolonged delay to appease Beijing.

A Standard surface-to-air missile is launched from a Perry-class frigate of Taiwan navy at a mock enemy target in the island's biggest ever wargame held in Litzechien, northeastern Ilan county, 04 September 2003. At least 6,000 soldiers participated in the drill codenamed "Han Kuang 19" (Han Glory) presided over by President Chen Shui-bian.  AFP PHOTO/Sam YEH  (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
A Standard surface-to-air missile is launched from a Perry-class frigate of Taiwan navy at a mock enemy target in the island's biggest ever wargame held in Litzechien, northeastern Ilan county, 04 September 2003. At least 6,000 soldiers participated in the drill codenamed "Han Kuang 19" (Han Glory) presided over by President Chen Shui-bian. AFP PHOTO/Sam YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of State has notified Congress of a $1.3 billion arms deal to Taiwan, the first sale to the self-governing island under the administration of President Donald Trump.

The sale includes technical support for an early warning radar system, torpedoes, anti-radiation missiles, and missile components.

“These sales primarily represent upgrades to existing defense capabilities aimed at converting current legacy systems from analog to digital,” said a U.S. government official, who asked not to be identified by name, in an email.

The move is sure to displease Beijing, which views Taiwan as an inviolable part of its own territory and views such sales as an infringement upon Chinese sovereignty. In the 1982 Joint Communique with China, the United States stated its intention “gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution.”

China sees continued arms sales as a potential violation of this agreement. The United States, however, views such arms sales as an important part of its relations with Taiwan and its overall regional policy.

“Taiwan’s defensive capability gives it the confidence to engage with the mainland in dialogue to improve cross-Strait relations,” said the official.

The official cited the U.S. commitment to upholding the Taiwan Relations Act, the 1979 agreement that permits arms sales and provides a legal framework for unofficial relations with Taiwan after the United States broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established relations with mainland China.

The last such deal was authorized in December 2015, with a total of $1.8 billion in missiles, ships, and amphibious assault vehicles approved for delivery to Taipei.

The congressional notification, a required step in moving the sale forward, comes almost a week after a bipartisan group of eight senators wrote a letter to Trump expressing concerns over delays in the pending sale. Some lawmakers viewed the delay as a worrying sign that Trump would abandon the United States’ traditional defensive support for Taiwan to curry favor with Beijing.

The Trump administration believes China’s help is key to pressuring North Korea amid a growing nuclear standoff.

This is the second piece of good news for Taiwan to come out of Washington this week. On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure that would allow the U.S. Navy to dock at Taiwanese ports. If passed in Congress and signed into law, the provision would overturn almost 40 years of policy forbidding such naval visits and would mark a stunning upset in the U.S.-China status quo, likely prompting sustained Chinese outrage.

SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy. @BethanyAllenEbr

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