Today's D Brief: New takes on Taiwan; Arms-export twist; UK’s next defense chief; West Point surprise; And a bit more.

The White House just approved an arms sale to Taiwan under terms typically designed for sovereign countries. “The package is modest—only $80 million of what Congress had set aside as a potential $2 billion—but the implications of using the so-called Foreign Military Financing program to provide it infuriated China,” the Associated Press reported Thursday. 

Exact weapons were not specified. But AP said it could include “air and coastal defense systems, armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, drones, ballistic missile and cyber defenses,” communications equipment, protective gear, as well as armored and infantry fighting vehicles.”

A Chinese military spokesman strongly objected to the deal Thursday, and said, “As always, the People’s Liberation Army will take all necessary measures to resolutely retaliate,” according to the South China Morning Post

Reax from the Hill: “While this week’s announced $80 million in [Foreign Military Financing] is just a start, it will make a meaningful contribution in conjunction with the July $345 million Presidential Drawdown Authority funding for Taiwan,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Thursday. “Congress has pressed the Biden Administration to rapidly increase our security assistance to Taipei, and I look forward to continuing to support the Administration in its efforts to do so,” he added. 

“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 [Chinese Communist Party],” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, in his own statement this week.

US, China restore comms? The above news arrived the same day as the Pentagon confirmed that Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino had spoken with a top Chinese defense official at a conference earlier this month. 

Rewind: Chinese officials suspended regular contacts with the U.S. military last August after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. “But the problem existed even before Pelosi’s visit,” the Associated Press wrote earlier this year. “The U.S. says China has declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for top-level dialogues since 2021.”

New: CODEL to Taipei. House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia joined fellow Republicans Carlos Gimenez of Florida, Jen Kiggans of Virginia, and Michael Cloud of Texas for a three-day visit to Taiwan that began Thursday. “Talks centered on proactive cooperation plans spanning security, trade and other areas of mutual interest, benefiting our shared future!” Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry wrote on social media Friday. 

Worth noting: “Taiwan has bought $19 billion in military items from the U.S., but most of that remains undelivered,” and Associated Press reported Friday from the island. Those delays are due to supply chain complications and U.S. support for Ukraine’s military in the face of the ongoing Russian military invasion. 

Wittman’s message: “Know that any hostile unprovoked attack on Taiwan will result in a resolute reaction from the U.S.,” he told reporters before a scheduled meeting with President Tsai Ing-Wen and Taiwan’s National Security Council chief Wellington Koo. 

Gimenez’s message: “The threat of brutal Communist tyranny is on Taiwan’s doorstep and the Biden Administration must hastily deliver the defense systems Taiwan has already purchased,” he wrote on social media Friday. AP has more from Taipei, here

By the way: U.S., Japanese, Australian, and Philippine military officials flew over the South China Sea together this past weekend, the U.S. Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet announced on Tuesday. 

All four countries “and the rest of the Pacific partner nations are committed to maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region while adhering to the Law of the Sea,” 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Karl Thomas said in a statement. “When we operate together, we demonstrate the importance of the freedom of navigation and reinforce the prosperity of all nations who rely on these critical waterways,” he added. 

Coverage continues below the fold… 

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1974, two U.S. Air Force pilots set a transatlantic speed record when they flew the SR-71 Blackbird from New York to London in less than two hours while flying at the near-incomprehensible speed of 1,806 mph. Their record still stands. 

The British parliament on Wednesday declared Taiwan an “independent country” because, as they described it, the self-governing island “possesses all the qualifications for statehood.”

The announcement was delivered via a new report from the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee entitled, “Tilting horizons: the Integrated Review and the Indo-Pacific” (PDF here). About halfway through, it reads, “Taiwan is already an independent country, under the name Republic of China (ROC). Taiwan possesses all the qualifications for statehood, including a permanent population, a defined territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states—it is only lacking greater international recognition.” 

You may have heard Chinese leaders claim Taiwan has been part of China for 1,800 years. However, “it was only when the Manchu Empire took control of China and Taiwan [in the mid-17th century] that China ruled there,” the Brits say in their report; and referencing their own efforts building an empire abroad, they note, “just as the British Empire took control of India and Sri Lanka at the same time, it did not make Sri Lanka part of India.” 

To be still more precise, the report reads, “The Qing emperors exercised suzerainty over Taiwan from 1683 to 1895, when it was ceded to Japan. From 1945 to 1949 Chiang Kai-shek ruled Taiwan from the mainland, but the PRC has never ruled Taiwan, it has instead consistently demonstrated a determination to take Taiwan ever since its aborted invasion of the island in 1949 to distract from domestic woes, be it the COVID-19 pandemic or crises in the Chinese economy.”

Why it matters: Britain’s top diplomat James Cleverly visited Beijing on Wednesday, making him the UK’s first foreign minister to make an official visit in five years. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended Cleverly’s trip this week, telling reporters in London, “It’s perfectly possible to engage with China at the same time as being very robust in standing up for our interests and our values.” 

Cleverly’s Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, told reporters ahead of their meeting this week, “I believe that as long as both sides adhere to mutual respect, equal treatment, view each other's development objectively, and enhance mutual understanding and trust, Sino-British relations will be able to eliminate all unnecessary interference and obstacles.” 

“We are not going to change China overnight,” Cleverly told reporters afterward. “But it is important that we maintain regular dialogue,” the Associated Press reported from Beijing. For what it’s worth, Cleverly also visited his Philippine counterpart one day before his China visit; and Britain’s Indo-Pacific minister just began a weeklong visit to Laos and Malaysia on Friday.

What next? “A possible meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could come at the G20 summit in India next month,” Reuters reported Wednesday.

The UK appointed a new military chief on Thursday after Defense Minister Ben Wallace’s four years on the job came to an end with his resignation this week. The new guy is Grant Shapps, who the New York Times writes “is a close ally of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, though he has far less foreign policy and security experience than Mr. Wallace.”

“From Wannacry [cyber attacks], the 2017 terrorist attacks, the Salisbury Poisonings, Afghanistan, Sudan and Ukraine, it has been an honor to serve alongside the men and women of our Armed forces and intelligence services who sacrifice so much for our security,” Wallace wrote in his resignation letter on Thursday. “I genuinely believe that over the next decade the world will get more insecure and more unstable,” he said, and added, “We both share the belief that now is the time to invest.”

“I am looking forward to working with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who defend our nation’s security,” Shapps wrote on social media. “And continuing the UK’s support for Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s barbaric invasion.”

Reps from British defense contractor BAE Systems visited Kyiv this week, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his Thursday evening address. “The world knows this company very well,” he said. “And our warriors are already very familiar with the weapons produced by this company. In particular, artillery—L119 and M777, armored vehicles—CV90, which are very powerful.” 

“The company is starting to work in Ukraine,” said Zelenskyy. “Our goal is to have all the most useful weapons for defense produced in Ukraine. And it will happen. We already produce certain items, and we will produce all the necessary ones. I thank everyone in the world who helps!”

Developing: Zelenskyy also claimed Ukraine just developed a new weapon with a 700-km range, or about 430 miles. He did not elaborate. 

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Lastly this week: A few coins emerge from West Point’s time capsule. That nearly 200-year-old lead box opened with some fanfare and no apparent contents last week? Turns out it was just waiting to give up its secrets. A school archeologist sifting through the dust at the bottom found six silver American coins dating from 1795 to 1828 and a commemorative medal, West Point said in a news release. AP via Stars and Stripes, here. Have a good long weekend, and we’ll see you on Tuesday.