Exclusive: White House advances drone and missile sales to Taiwan

By Mike Stone, Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is moving forward with more sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan, telling Congress on Tuesday that it will seek to sell Taipei MQ-9 drones and a coastal defensive missile system, sources familiar with the situation said.

The possible sales follow three other notifications first reported by Reuters on Monday that drew China’s ire as the United States prepares for its Nov. 3 election.

One of the eight sources said that in total the sales were valued at around $5 billion. Very often figures for U.S. foreign military sales include costs for training, spares and fees making the values difficult to pinpoint.

Reuters broke the news in September that as many as seven major weapons systems were making their way through the U.S. export process as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on China.

The pre-notification to Congress for the General Atomics-made MQ-9 drones is the first after President Donald Trump’s administration moved ahead with its plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Tuesday’s other congressional pre-notification was for land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles, made by Boeing Co, to serve as coastal defense cruise missiles. One of the sources said the approximately 100 cruise missiles that were notified to Capitol Hill would have a cost of about $2 billion.

Representatives for the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Taiwan government source acknowledged that “Taiwan has five weapon systems that are moving through the process.”

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees have the right to review, and block, weapons sales under an informal review process before the State Department sends its formal notification to the legislative branch.

Leaders of the committees were notified that the planned weapons sales had been approved by the U.S. State Department which oversees foreign military sales, said the sources, who are familiar with the situation but declined to be identified.

Reuters reported on Monday that informal notifications had already been sent to Congress for a truck-based rocket launcher made by Lockheed Martin Corp called a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), long-range air-to-ground missiles made by Boeing called SLAM-ER, and external sensor pods for F-16 jets that allow the real-time transmission of imagery and data from the aircraft back to ground stations.

When asked about Tuesday’s tranche of congressional notifications the Chinese Embassy in Washington referred to an overnight statement from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

Zhao said U.S. arms sales to Taiwan severely damaged China’s sovereignty and security interests. He urged Washington to clearly recognize the harm they caused and immediately cancel them, adding: “China will make a legitimate and necessary response according to how the situation develops.”

China considers Taiwan a wayward province that it has vowed to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary, but Washington considers it an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.

In August, a Taiwanese official said the island was discussing acquiring capabilities including “underwater sea mines and other capabilities to deter amphibious landing, or immediate attack.”

The Taiwanese source said Taiwan was not seeking to procure sea mines from the United States.

People familiar with the talks with Taiwan have said that transfer of technology to Taipei for domestic production for various weapons capabilities has been under discussion.

Washington has been eager to see Taiwan bolster its defensive capabilities in the face of increasingly aggressive Chinese moves toward the island.

Speaking last week, the U.S. national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said Taiwan needed to turn itself into a porcupine to make to make clear to China the risks of attempting to invade.

He said Taiwan needed to invest in capabilities including more coastal defense cruise missiles, naval mines, fast-attack craft, mobile artillery and advanced surveillance assets.

(Reporting by Mike Stone, Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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