U.S. Conventional Arms Sales to Taiwan 1980-2010

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):

Fiscal Year
U.S. Government
Arms Agreements
U.S. Government
Arms Deliveries
U.S. Commercial
Arms Deliveries
2010$1.25 billion$713 million



3.17 billion

646 millionunavailable
2008608 million618 million$364 million
200722 thousand777 million200 million
200610 million1.07 billion5 million
2005244 thousand1.39 billion20 million
2004591 million917 million34 million
2003445 million709 million9 million
71 million1.37 billion134 million
272 million1.15 billion29 million
134 million784 million15 million
546 million2.44 billion16 million
591 million1.42 billion173 million
354 million2.39 billion261 million
449 million820 million20 million
208 million1.33 billion28 million
361 million845 million262 million
5.37 billion815 million346 million
478 million710 million96 million
474 million549 million160 million
518 million452 million150 million
522 million387 million85 million
487 million497 million195 million
501 million357 million210 million
506 million249 million229 million
709 million336 million54 million
670 million292 million70 million
631 million387 million85 million
489 million386 million75 million
312 million373 million67 million
487 million210 million58 million
$21.21 billion$25.39 billion$3.41 billion

Specific Weaponry:

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