Washington -- The State Department is proposing the sale of $2.2 billion in arms to Taiwan, drawing a sharp protest from China. The potential sale of 108 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, among other hardware, would be seen in Beijing as a direct challenge to China's regional power as it claims the self-governing island as its territory.
The tanks would represent a significant upgrade to Taiwan's aging armored battle fleet. Congress has been notified of the proposed sale and lawmakers can still vote to stop it.
The Chinese foreign ministry has said repeatedly that it strongly opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday that Washington should withdraw the current offer.
The State Department said the arms would help Taiwan "meet current and future regional threats" and enhance its ability to operate with the U.S. and other partners.
Taiwan, China and the U.S.
Taiwan split from China in 1949, and has no formal diplomatic ties with the U.S., but America is Taiwan's main supplier of defensive weapons.
U.S. law requires Washington to take threats to the island seriously and to "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has made beefing up the island's armed forces a central task of her administration, amid increasing Chinese military threats and a campaign to increase Taiwan's diplomatic isolation and weaken its economy.
China considers self-governing Taiwan part of its territory, to be brought under its control by force, if necessary. It says U.S. arms sales to the island constitute both interference in its internal affairs and a betrayal of earlier commitments made by Washington to Beijing.
"We urge the U.S. to fully understand the high sensitivity and serious harm of the issue of arms sales to Taiwan and abide by the one-China principle," Geng said at a previous news conference in Beijing.
The M1 Abrams would mark a significant upgrade from the aging tanks Taiwan's army now uses, while the TOW and Javelin systems would upgrade Taiwan's ability to repulse an attempt by China to land tanks and troops from across the 100 mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
The Stingers meanwhile could help boost Taiwan's defenses against China's more than 1,000 advanced fighter aircraft and 1,500 missiles pointing at the island.