The Trump administration has approved selling Taiwan up to four advanced surveillance drones worth an estimated $600 million, according to a formal notice sent to Congress on Tuesday.
Selling Taipei the General Atomics-made MQ-9 SeaGuardian drones and associated equipment and training will “counter threats to Taiwan by improving Taiwan’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” a State Department official said.
The approval is the first one for a drone sale since the Trump administration loosened the U.S. rules for drone exports in July.
“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the notice to Congress said. “The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region.”
“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the notice added.
Tuesday’s notice kicks off a 30-day clock during which lawmakers can block the sale if they choose to, something that is not expected given broad bipartisan support for Taiwan’s defense.
The formal notice of the sale comes as voters are casting their ballots in a presidential election that was marked by President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden both seeking to portray themselves as tough on China.
U.S.-China relations have plunged to new lows during the campaign as Republicans sought to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the United States onto China, where the first cases of the virus were detected in 2016.
The drone sale is also the third package of arms sales to Taiwan the Trump administration has advanced in as many weeks.
Last week, the administration announced approval for a $2.4 billion sale of 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems and 400 Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles. The week before, the administration approved $1.8 billion in sales of air-to-ground missiles, truck-mounted rocket launchers and reconnaissance pods that can be attached to Taiwan’s fighter jets.
China views such arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, as highly provocative. In response to the other recent arms sales, China announced sanctions against U.S. defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.