US   -   The US State Department has approved a potential arms sale to Taiwan, estimated to be worth $2.2bn (£1.76bn), the Pentagon said.

Last month, China’s Foreign Ministry had urged the US to halt the sale, calling it an “extremely sensitive and damaging” decision.

The deal is for 108 Abrams tanks, 250 Stinger missiles and related equipment.

China regards Taiwan as part of its territory which should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also called for the US to abide by the One China policy - under which the US recognises and has only formal ties with China and not Taiwan.

He said the action “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests”. He also accused the US of violating the One China policy, under which the US recognises and has only formal ties with China and not Taiwan.

The sale of the weapons would not alter the basic military balance in the region, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office expressed “sincere gratitude” to the US - which is the main arms supplier to Taiwan.

A spokesman for Taiwan’s president said in a statement to an international news agency that the island would “continue to deepen security ties with the US”.

Taiwan split from China in 1949, and has no formal diplomatic ties with the U.S., but America is Taiwan’s main supplier of defensive weapons.

U.S. law requires Washington to take threats to the island seriously and to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has made beefing up the island’s armed forces a central task of her administration, amid increasing Chinese military threats and a campaign to increase Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation and weaken its economy.

China considers self-governing Taiwan part of its territory, to be brought under its control by force, if necessary. It says U.S. arms sales to the island constitute both interference in its internal affairs and a betrayal of earlier commitments made by Washington to Beijing.

“We urge the U.S. to fully understand the high sensitivity and serious harm of the issue of arms sales to Taiwan and abide by the one-China principle,” Geng said at a previous news conference in Beijing.

The M1 Abrams would mark a significant upgrade from the aging tanks Taiwan’s army now uses, while the TOW and Javelin systems would upgrade Taiwan’s ability to repulse an attempt by China to land tanks and troops from across the 100 mile-wide Taiwan Strait.