The Biden administration has approved the first-ever US military transfer to Taiwan under a program generally reserved for assistance to sovereign, independent states. The State Department notified Congress of the sale on Wednesday. It said the material would "be used to strengthen Taiwan's self-defence capabilities through joint and combined defense capability and enhanced maritime domain awareness and maritime security capability."

The package is modest - only USD 80 million of what Congress had set aside as a potential USD 2 billion - but the implications of using the so-called Foreign Military Financing program to provide it will likely infuriate China.

Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, has repeatedly not ruled out the use of force to reunite it with the mainland and vociferously protests all US arms sales to the self-governing island.

However, previous arms sales to Taiwan have been approved under other authorities that do not necessarily imply statehood. US officials were quick to say that the provision of FMF funding to Taiwan did not represent a change in policy. It's a position the Chinese are sure to disagree with.

In explaining the change, two US officials said: "The United States has provided Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Taiwan for years. FMF simply enables eligible partner nations to purchase US defense articles, services, and training through either FMS or, for a limited number of countries, through the foreign military financing of direct commercial contracts (FMF/DCC) program." The officials were not authorized to comment publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.

But the language used implied that Taiwan is or could be compared to a "nation" or a "country" - something China has fervently opposed, blocking Taiwan's full membership in any number of UN and other international organisations unless it is identified as part of China. The only other time the US has provided a non-nation-state with military assistance under FMF was to the African Union, an organisation of sovereign states based in Ethiopia, according to American officials. The notification, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, did not specify what military equipment or systems would be paid for under FMF, which commits US taxpayer dollars to pay for the supply of materiel to foreign countries.

But, it said items that could be covered would include: air and coastal defense systems, armoured vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, drones, ballistic missile and cyber defenses, and advanced communications equipment. It added that protective gear, an array of small, medium and heavy weapons systems, ammunition, armoured and infantry fighting vehicles could also be included.

In addition to equipment, FMF may also be used to support training for Taiwanese military forces.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the FMF being provided 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," he said in a statement, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.