The Obama administration has notified Congress that it has decided to sell weapons to Taiwan, a move expected to worsen already tense ties between China and the United States, senior congressional aides said Monday.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province and will vehemently object to the arms package, which is likely to include UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and material related to Taiwan’s defense communications network.
The aides said the administration has been consulting with Congress about Taiwan’s defense needs ahead of a formal announcement of the sale. Meetings began last week and are continuing this week.
The aides, who have direct knowledge of the meetings, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of arms sales to Taiwan and because the notification is not yet official.
The package appears to dodge a thorny issue: The aides say the F-16 fighter jets that Taiwan covets are not likely to be included.
The sale would satisfy parts of an $11 billion arms package originally pledged to the self-governing island by former President George W. Bush in 2001. That package has been provided in stages because of political and budgetary considerations in Taiwan and the United States. The aides say it is unclear when an official announcement will come but that it could be soon.
The sale has been widely expected, and Beijing has already warned of a disruption in ties with Washington.
Taiwan is the most sensitive matter in U.S.-China relations, with the potential to plunge into conflict two powers increasingly linked in security and economic issues. Many in Washington expect that a temporary break in military ties is inevitable.
China vows to eventually bring Taiwan under its control and aims more than 1,000 ballistic missiles at the island; the U.S. government, on the other hand, is bound by law to ensure the island is able to respond to Chinese threats.
The arms sale package will test the Obama administration’s China policy, which U.S. officials say is meant to improve trust between the countries, so that the inevitable disagreements over Taiwan or Tibet don’t reverse efforts to cooperate on nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, and attempts to deal with economic and climate change issues.
It was only in November that President Barack Obama met with Chinese leaders in an attempt to secure cooperation on global hotspots. Since then, tensions have spiked, with the United States criticizing Chinese Internet freedom and China worrying over a possible meeting next month between Obama and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader China accuses of pushing for independence.
The United States also faults China’s double digit annual percentage increases in defense spending. Washington has said that China’s massive defense spending would spur continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan to maintain a military balance in the potentially dangerous Taiwan Strait.
In 2008, China suspended most military dialogue with Washington after the Bush administration approved a $6.5 billion arms package to Taiwan that included guided missiles and attack helicopters.