Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107
Updated: October 2012
Since the United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have been one of the most contentious issues in U.S.-China relations. Beijing wants control of the island and has not ruled out military action to achieve its goal, threatening to use force if Taiwan indefinitely refuses negotiations on reunification, declares independence, or is occupied by another country. Washington has urged the two sides to settle Taiwan's future peacefully and warned that it would view efforts to coerce reunification with "grave concern."
The value of annual U.S. government arms sales agreements with Taiwan varies, ranging from a low of $10 million in fiscal year 2006 to a high of nearly $5.37 billion in fiscal year 1993. (See chart below.) The United States also authorizes private U.S. arms companies to conclude weapon deals with Taiwan. The value of reported arms deliveries through these commercial channels has varied between roughly $5 million and $364 million each year.
The United States justifies these sales under the Taiwan Relations Act, which declares that the United States "will 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." Passed by Congress in March 1979 after the United States changed its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the act became law on April 10, 1979.
China, which claims Taiwan is the "most crucial and most sensitive issue" in its relations with the United States, maintains that U.S. arms sales to Taipei infringe on China's sovereignty because Washington acknowledges that Taiwan is part of China. Beijing also charges that sales contradict the U.S.-China joint communiqué issued August 17, 1982. That document stated that the United States
"Does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution."
China had demanded in October 1981 that the United States set a fixed date for ending arms sales to Taiwan, but Washington refused. A strong supporter of Taiwan, President Ronald Reagan made the August 1982 commitment because he wanted better relations with China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union and because his administration believed the level of arms supplied by the Carter administration in its last years set the bar relatively high for future U.S. transfers.
Reagan assured Taiwan that the communiqué did not spell out a date for cutting off U.S. arms supplies and that Washington would not consult with Beijing about what U.S. arms would be provided to Taipei. In addition, Reagan and subsequent U.S. presidents interpreted the U.S. pledge to gradually reduce sales as conditioned on the maintenance of a military balance between China and Taiwan. The United States also contends the 1982 communiqué is a political document that is not legally binding, whereas the Taiwan Relations Act is U.S. law.
U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan 1980- 2010 (values not adjusted for inflation):
|2010||$1.25 billion||$713 million|
|2008||608 million||618 million||$364 million|
|2007||22 thousand||777 million||200 million|
|2006||10 million||1.07 billion||5 million|
|2005||244 thousand||1.39 billion||20 million|
|2004||591 million||917 million||34 million|
|2003||445 million||709 million||9 million|
|71 million||1.37 billion||134 million|
|272 million||1.15 billion||29 million|
|134 million||784 million||15 million|
|546 million||2.44 billion||16 million|
|591 million||1.42 billion||173 million|
|354 million||2.39 billion||261 million|
|449 million||820 million||20 million|
|208 million||1.33 billion||28 million|
|361 million||845 million||262 million|
|5.37 billion||815 million||346 million|
|478 million||710 million||96 million|
|474 million||549 million||160 million|
|518 million||452 million||150 million|
|522 million||387 million||85 million|
|487 million||497 million||195 million|
|501 million||357 million||210 million|
|506 million||249 million||229 million|
|709 million||336 million||54 million|
|670 million||292 million||70 million|
|631 million||387 million||85 million|
|489 million||386 million||75 million|
|312 million||373 million||67 million|
|487 million||210 million||58 million|
|$21.21 billion||$25.39 billion||$3.41 billion|
Prior to 2006, the United States voluntarily reported conventional arms transfers to Taiwan--including specific weapon types--to the United Nations. However, in 2006 a United Nations group of governmental experts recommended that all future reports submitted to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms only include information on conventional arms transfers to United Nations' member states. As a result, there is no new available data on the specific weaponry transferred to Taiwan since 2006.
Sources: Defense Security Cooperation Agency, China's February 2000 White Paper on Taiwan, Congressional Research Service