Trump administration readies major arms sale to Taiwan

The Trump administration is expected to soon approve another major weapons sale including drones to Taiwan, according to congressional and administration sources. The move comes as the US and Taiwan are strengthening ties and amid mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The US is preparing to sell seven packages of weapons systems to Taiwan, a congressional aide told CNN, saying it was unclear when the Congress would be formally notified about the sales, as is required by law.

A US official said that the administration will soon formally approve a large sale of MQ-9B Reaper drones. The value of the drones and associated equipment and program support is estimated to be about $600 million.

“As a matter of policy we do not comment on or confirm proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the proposed sale.

Washington has long provided arms to the island under the terms of the 40-year-old Taiwan Relations Act.

Beijing has frequently chafed at those sales, calling them a violation of China’s sovereignty. The country’s Communist government views Taiwan as part of its territory, though the two have been governed separately since the end of a bloody civil war in 1949.

But there has been an increase in arms sales to Taiwan during the Trump administration as the US has grown closer to the country.

The Trump administration has previously approved several major arms sales to Taiwan valued at more than $13 billion in total, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets, M1A2T Abrams tanks, portable Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and MK-48 Mod6 torpedoes.

“I would like to thank the US government for supporting the enhancement of Taiwan’s self defense capabilities. in the past four years the Trump administration has approved seven arms sales package to Taiwan totaling $13.2 billion, looking ahead we will further develop and bolster indigenous defense and asymmetrical warfare capabilities,” Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Tuesday during a virtual address to the Global Taiwan Institute Annual Symposium in Washington.

“Confronted with the Chinese communist regime, Taiwan is on the frontlines defending democracies,” Wu added.

Another high profile US visit

There have also been several high profile diplomatic visits by members of the Trump administration to Taipei, including by the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, the highest ranking cabinet official to visit the island in decades.

On Wednesday the State Department announced that the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach will travel to Taiwan to attend the memorial service for former President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.

Krach will be the highest ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan in years.

China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, has been said he aims to “reunify” the island with the mainland, and has refused to rule out the use of force, even though the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never actually controlled Taiwan.

Taiwanese officials have accused China of ramping up military activity near Taiwan in an effort to put pressure on Taipei, including flying Chinese fighter jets across the unofficial boundary dividing the Taiwan strait during Azar’s visit to Taipei.

Taiwan is ramping up its defense spending as part of an effort to counter the threat from Beijing.

In 2019 Taiwan’s defense budget was $10.9 billion compared to an official Chinese defense budget of $174 billion.

A recent Defense Department report on China’s military said that China’s military modernization efforts has helped it make strides in overcoming the challenges of mounting an invasion of Taiwan while noting that Taipei is also seeking to improve its military posture to enable it to ward off any attack.

The US has long sought to get Taiwan to invest in systems that would provide it an asymmetric advantage over an invading Chinese force as opposed to more conventional systems like battle tanks that can be more easily targeted in an initial offensive salvo.

And while the Trump administration has pushed to boost arms sales to Taiwan it is unclear whether that policy would continue should former Vice President Joe Biden win the election in November.

The Obama administration also sold arms to Taiwan but resisted selling some systems, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, a sale that the Trump administration went on to approve.