China threatened on Friday to impose sanctions on US companies involved in selling arms to Taiwan. News that the US plans to sell $2.2 billion worth of weapons to the self-ruled island has angered Beijing.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that the United States should “not play with fire”, according to a report by Reuters. He was referring to the US plan to sell Abrams tanks and Stinger missiles, a deal which has yet to go to Congress.

Foreign Minister spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement: “In order to safeguard national interests, China will impose sanctions on US enterprises participating in this sale of weapons to Taiwan.”

The planned weapons sale would be the first transfer of major military equipment to the democratically-governed Taiwan in decades, and comes as ties between Washington and Beijing are already strained by their trade war, AFP said.

China views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

Scuffles in New York

Meanwhile, police in New York had to intervene to break up fights between fans and opponents of Taiwan’s leader on Thursday. President Tsai Ing-wen is on a short and rare a visit to the United States, which has upset Beijing.

Taiwanese media broadcast footage of the clashes outside the Grand Hyatt, where Tsai is staying during her two-day US trip.

Opponents of Tsai – many waving Chinese flags – chanted slogans and fought with supporters, while one man was seen being detained and handcuffed by police.

Tsai is spending two days in New York ahead of a visit to diplomatic allies in the Caribbean.

Pro- and anti-reunification groups jostle for attention outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where Tsai stays. The rivalry later descended into a fight when both camps accused the other side of assault. Photos: Twitter, Facebook
Tsai is welcomed by the American Institute in Taiwan chairman James Moriarty, second from right, after touching at New York’s JFK Airport. Photo: Handout

Normally the head of a state passing through American soil would not spark controversy but Taiwan has long found itself in a precarious and unusual diplomatic situation.

The democratic island has ruled itself for seven decades but most countries do not recognize it — including the United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Yet Washington remains its most powerful unofficial ally and biggest arms supplier.

China sees Taiwan as part of its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary. It bristles at any countries that might lend Taiwan diplomatic support or legitimacy.

“China is firmly opposed to official exchanges between the US and Taiwan,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing on Friday.

“We urge the US… to not let Tsai Ing-wen pass through its territory,” he said, adding that the US should not provide a platform for “Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

With the US currently engaged in a trade war with China, relations between Taipei and Washington have warmed considerably.

Unlike the last three American presidents, who were wary of angering Beijing, Donald Trump has ramped up relations with Taiwan.

Last week the State Department approved $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including battle tanks and anti-aircraft missiles, the first big-ticket military deal for the island in years.

Tsai transited through the US during a trip to the Pacific earlier this year, as well as last year’s visit to Paraguay and Belize, both prompting official Chinese protests.

“Taiwan will not succumb to intimidation,” her office said in a statement released as the US visit kicked off, without specifically mentioning China. “All difficulties will only strengthen our determination to go out to the international community.”

Tsai is seen in a group photo with envoys from Taiwan’s diplomatic allies. The number of countries that still recognize the island’s sovereignty has kept dwindling since Tsai took office in 2016. Photo: Handout

On Thursday evening Tsai met with envoys from the 17 remaining countries that still recognize Taiwan.

She is due to attend a business forum later – on Friday US time – and meet students on Saturday morning before heading to the Caribbean.

Tsai will visit Haiti, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, and St Kitts and Nevis, which all recognize Taiwan.

China has poached five of Taipei’s dwindling number of allies since Tsai became president in 2016.

Haiti has vowed to maintain ties with Taipei despite neighboring Dominican Republic establishing relations with China last year.

Taiwan pledged a $150 million development loan to Haiti, while Beijing reportedly offered the Dominican Republic investments and loans to the tune of $3 billion.

AFP