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Biden approves military aid to Taiwan under program normally used for sovereign states

FILE PHOTO: Taiwanese flags are seen at the Ministry of National Defence of Taiwan in Taipei

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has approved a military transfer to Taiwan under the Foreign Military Financing, or FMF, program normally used for sovereign states, according to a notification sent to Congress.

The notification, which was seen by Reuters on Wednesday, informs congressional committees of the State Department's intention to obligate up to $80 million in FMF funds in support of Taiwan.

"FMF will be used to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities through joint and combined defense capability and enhanced maritime domain awareness and maritime security capability," the notification said.

Taiwan's defense ministry expressed its thanks, but said it had no comment on the details of the aid, noting that the United States has already been helping strengthen the island's combat capabilities under existing policies and laws.

The Taiwan notification was first reported by the Associated Press.

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was glad the administration was "finally" providing FMF to Taiwan.

"These weapons will not only help Taiwan and protect other democracies in the region, but also strengthen the U.S. deterrence posture and ensure our national security from an increasingly aggressive CCP (Chinese Communist Party)," McCaul said in a statement.

FMF, the largest military assistance account managed by the State Department, provides primarily grant assistance to foreign governments for the purchase of U.S. defense equipment and military training under the Foreign Military Sales program.

A State Department official confirmed the notification to Congress and said the decision to provide Taiwan with FMF assistance did not reflect any change in U.S. policy.

Beijing claims the democratically governed island as its own territory, and warns against any forms of "official exchanges" between Washington and Taipei. Taiwan rejects China's sovereignty claims and says only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

China has repeatedly complained to the United States about military aid and sales to the island. Its defense ministry has said the U.S. military must stop all forms of "military collusion" with the island.

The United States, Taiwan's most important arms supplier, last month announced a Taiwan weapons aid package worth up to $345 million.

Last week, the United States also approved a possible $500 million sale to Taiwan of infrared search and track systems for F-16 fighter jets, as well as other equipment.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Gerry Doyle)