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The US Biden Administration has approved the first ever transfer to Taiwan under the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme, with the US Congress notified of the move by the US State Department on 30 August 2023.

The move has predictably infuriated China, since the FMF programme is normally used for sovereign states, whereas China perceives Taiwan as a breakaway province. The US State Department emphasised to US media outlets that US policy on China and Taiwan, which “acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China”, has not changed.

“Consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and our longstanding one China policy, which has not changed, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” a US State Department spokesperson told CNN. “The United States has an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, which is critical to regional and global security and prosperity.”

As the largest military assistance programme managed by the State Department, FMF provides primarily grant and sometimes loan assistance to foreign governments for the purchase of US defence equipment and military training under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. Taiwan has in the past bought US weapons through the FMS programme, but the FMF programme will provide grants paid for by US taxpayers in order to make such purchases.

A Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) F-16A. Taiwan has been upgrading 141 of the ROCAF’s F-16A/Bs to the F-16V standard and has ordered 66 new F-16Vs. (Photo: 玄史生 / Wikipedia CC0 1.0)

The initial notification details the US State Department’s intention to obligate just USD 80 M (EUR 73.8 M) in FMF funds for Taiwan, but under the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act passed last year the US government is authorised to spend up to USD 2 Bn annually in military grants to Taiwan from 2023 to 2027.

Following the announcement of the Biden Administration extending FMF to Taiwan, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican, released a statement saying, “I am glad the administration is further implementing our bipartisan Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act by finally providing FMF to Taiwan. These weapons will not only help Taiwan and protect other democracies in the region, but also strengthen the US deterrence posture and ensure our national security from an increasingly aggressive CCP [Chinese Communist Party].”

In remarks to the press on 31 August Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated, “The US decision to provide weapons to China’s Taiwan region under the so-called Foreign Military Financing used for sovereign states seriously violates the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-US joint communiqués, especially the August 17 Communiqué of 1982. This move seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests, harms peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sends gravely wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces. China deplores and firmly opposes them.”

Peter Felstead