The status of Taiwan, long a diplomatic flash point between the U.S. and China, is once again threatening to seriously undermine relations between Washington and Beijing after President Donald Trump’s administration approved a new massive arms sale to the island nation.
On Friday, Chinese state-backed media voiced the Communist Party’s fury over the U.S.’ latest expression of support for Taipei’s independence, in a move that Beijing suggested contravenes accepted diplomatic and legal norms.
Beijing considers Taiwan—officially called the Republic of China and an independent nation for more than 70 years—part of China, and under its “One-China” policy has retained its commitment to reabsorbing the island, whether through diplomatic or military means.
But U.S. lawmakers have long maintained support for the Taiwanese independence, committing to weapons deals and regional military deployments to protect the island from a Communist Party takeover.
On Monday, the State Department approved a weapons package worth $2.2 billion for Taiwan, in a move condemned as “flagrant interference in China’s domestic affairs” in an editorial by the People’s Daily—the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist party.
The article argued that the deal “harms China’s sovereignty and security interests, poisons the development of military relations between China and the U.S., and gravely undermines the cross-strait relations and the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
The Taiwan question is one of several sensitive issues undermining relations between the U.S. and China. Washington has also condemned Beijing’s expansionist campaign in the South China Sea, while both nations remain locked in a spiraling trade war.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is currently in the U.S. on her way to meet representatives of several Caribbean nations. Though the State Department described her visit as “private and unofficial,” her presence in the country will be another cause for concern in Beijing.
The People’s Daily editorial suggested that the Taiwan weapons deal was just one element of American efforts to “contain China.” It added that the “irresponsible practice of the U.S.” will raise tensions, and warned that American leaders “should not take chances and keep walking on the wrong path.”
Though the article expressed concern, it dismissed the proposed weapons package as irrelevant in the overall military balance between Taiwan and China.
“The U.S. side must understand that selling arms to Taiwan will not be able to fill the huge gap of military strength,” it read. “Some experts in Taiwan described the arms deal as a ‘fool’s decision,’ because the price is high and the weapons purchased are not able to secure Taiwan at all.”
According to Reuters, the sale will include 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, 1,240 TOW anti-tank missiles and 250 stinger anti-aircraft missiles. China has been especially concerned that Taiwan may purchase new fighter jets from the U.S., but no such weapons are included in this sale.
Chinese leaders have previously threatened Taiwan with a military takeover, and the People’s Daily editorial once again warned that this remains an option.
“No one should ever underestimate the Chinese government and people’s will and resolution to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and core interests of the country,” it said, warning Taipei that “relying on foreigners” will only result in “failure and self-destruction.”
As for the U.S., the article demanded the administration “immediately cancel the planned arms sale to Taiwan, stop selling weapons to Taiwan and terminate military contact with Taiwan.”
In future, People’s Daily said Washington should “exercise caution and prudence when handling Taiwan-related issues to avoid serious damage to China-US relations and cross-strait peace and stability.”
The State Department has dismissed Chinese protests over the arms sale. Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said this week that America’s “interest in Taiwan, especially as it relates to these military sales, is to promote peace and stability across the strait, across the region.”