PARIS — The Trump administration is proposing to sell more than $2 billion worth of tanks and other military equipment to Taiwan, American officials said on Thursday. The sale would add to tensions between the United States and China, which are already clashing over trade, communications technology and a military buildup in the Pacific region.
The sale would be one of the largest to Taiwan in recent years by the United States. The single costliest part of the package is 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, the officials said.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a de facto independent island off the southeast coast of China that the Chinese Communist Party intends to bring back eventually under the control of Beijing, by force if necessary. But the Taiwan Relations Act obligates the United States government to help Taiwan maintain self-defense capabilities, and each administration has sold it arms packages. The United States is Taiwan’s main arms supplier.
The Taiwan defense ministry requested the weapons in the latest package, which was first reported by Reuters on Wednesday. Congress would have to be notified of the deal before it could go forward.
Trump administration officials have become increasingly worried about the intentions of Chinese leaders toward Taiwan, and they also regard Taiwan as an important counterweight to China in the region.
Though China’s military capabilities still lag far behind those of the United States, the People’s Liberation Army has worked on weapons systems, including anti-ship ballistic missiles, that might prove effective against the United States Navy in the event of conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
In recent months, the Pentagon has ordered naval ships to sail through the Taiwan Strait with increasing frequency, in shows of strength that officials call freedom of navigation exercises.
The proposed purchase of tanks and missiles is consistent with Taiwan’s deterrence strategy, said Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“They would help prevent an invasion, making it difficult for an invading P.L.A. force to establish a beachhead in northern Taiwan,” she said, referring to the People’s Liberation Army. “I expect the Trump administration to approve this package, as part of a policy of bolstering Taiwan’s defenses.”
She added that the next package was likely to be for 66 F-16 fighter jets.
Arms packages to Taiwan have grown in cost in recent years, in part because of technological advancement. During the Obama administration, the costliest package was approved in 2011. Almost the entire amount of that $5.8 billion package consisted of upgrades to an aging fleet of F-16’s that Taiwan had bought in 1992. Taiwan had requested a new batch of five dozen F-16’s, but did not get them.
President Trump has made trade the centerpiece of the relationship between the United States and China, but his top Asia policy officials are also focused on the military rivalry. The United States has previously approved two weapons deals with Taiwan during Mr. Trump’s presidency, one two years ago for $1.4 billion and another last year for $330 million.
On his Europe trip this week, Mr. Trump spoke with Western officials about American concerns over China, including over a potential security threat if European nations allowed the Chinese company Huawei to build next-generation 5G communications networks. The two top China policy officials in the White House’s National Security Council were on a list of 130 or so attendees last weekend at the secretive Bilderberg Meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, an annual gathering of Western political and business leaders.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke with European officials about China during his four-country tour of Europe that began last Friday in Germany and ended early Wednesday in Britain.
“China wants to be the dominant economic and military power of the world, spreading its authoritarian vision for society and its corrupt practices worldwide,” Mr. Pompeo said at a news conference on Monday at The Hague with Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister. “We talked today about these shared concerns and as well as the concerns about technology — infrastructure and technology and the 5G infrastructure network.”