Photographer: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

China Summons U.S. Envoy Over $1.83 Billion Arms Sale to Taiwan

  • Companies involved in sale will be sanctioned, China says
  • U.S. says sale based on asssessment of Taiwan's defense needs

China protested the sale of $1.83 billion in arms to Taiwan, summoning a U.S. diplomat to the foreign ministry to lodge a formal complaint and saying the country would impose sanctions on companies involved.

Kaye Lee, the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires, was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang expressed displeasure over the first U.S.-Taiwan weapons sale in four years, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. Such protests had been expected and the transaction wasn’t seen as likely to cause lasting damage in relations between Washington and Beijing.

The transaction would increase to more than $20 billion the total bought from the U.S. by Taiwan during the tenure of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, his office said. The U.S. supplies armaments “of a defensive nature” to the island under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act in an attempt to balance China’s increasing military might.

China, which has considered the island to be a breakaway province since 1949 when then-Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled during a civil war, said it would impose sanctions against the companies involved in the sale, Zheng said. The arms sale violates international law and the basic norms of international relations, he said.

The arms package includes two previously approved Navy frigates, U.S. Marine Corps. amphibious vehicles, Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, according to the U.S.’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The only companies named were Raytheon Missile Systems Co., a unit of Raytheon Co., and a joint venture with Lockheed Martin Corp. Other contractors have yet to be selected, the agency said.

“This is not a new thing, our support to the defense needs of Taiwan,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday in Washington. The sales are “done based on a clear-eyed assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs.”

The sale appeared timed to fall between what could be considered sensitive times for the three parties involved: United Nations climate talks in Paris involving presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping and elections in Taiwan next month. While China and Taiwan have expanded economic ties under Ma, they remain military rivals.

“Efforts over the past seven and a half years have boosted high-level trust and greater cooperation in political, economic and security matters, making for the best Taiwan-U.S. relations in the past 36 years since the end of formal diplomatic relations,” Ma’s office said in a statement Wednesday. 

Taiwan’s defense budget for this year was NT$313 billion ($9 billion), compared with China’s officially announced by 887 billion yuan ($137 billion). The island’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has a wide lead in public opinion polls ahead of the Jan. 16 election, welcomed the U.S. support and said it would increase defense spending if it should win.

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