China warns U.S. over proposed sale of military drones to Taiwan

China accused the United States Wednesday of sending out wrong signals to Taiwan’s military forces, after the Trump administration notified Congress that it has approved the sale of $600 million in armed drones to the island.

China will take legitimate and necessary responses in light of the changing circumstances, Wang Wenbin, spokesman of China’s foreign ministry told a regular briefing in Beijing.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a press conference in July. Artyom Ivanov / TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Tuesday it had approved Taiwan’s purchase of four “weapons ready” remotely piloted aircraft and related equipment, the latest in a series of arms transfers for the island.

The move is likely to infuriate China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has reacted angrily to previous weapons sales’ announcements to the island.

“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” it said.

“The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region.”

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The State Department said the sale would improve Taiwan’s defense by bolstering its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and could help deter military action against it.

The State Department’s formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, which is unlikely given broad bipartisan support for the defense of Taiwan.

When asked about the potential deal, China’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Wu Qian said U.S. arms sales to Taiwan “seriously endanger” China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and “seriously undermine” China-U.S. military relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

“Somebody who plays with fire will get burnt,” Qian said. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never allow anyone or any force to split the sacred territory of the motherland.”

Just last week, the Trump administration approved plans for a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missile systems to Taiwan. That came hours after Beijing had announced sanctions on U.S. defense contractors, including Boeing, the lead contractor on the Harpoon deal, over a previous weapons deal.

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China’s ruling Communist Party claims Taiwan, which split with the mainland in 1949 during a civil war, as part of its territory and has threatened to invade. Washington promised in the 1980s to reduce and eventually end weapons sales to Taiwan but insists its dispute with Beijing must be settled peacefully.

Chinese-U.S. relations have plunged to their lowest level in decades amid disputes about security, technology, the coronavirus pandemic and human rights.

Taiwan has long been an irritant in relations.

Washington has no formal relations with the island’s democratically-elected government but is its main ally. U.S. law requires the government to ensure Taiwan can defend itself. Weapons sales to the island have increased in quantity and quality.

Eric Baculinao contributed.

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