WASHINGTON: The US State Department has approved the potential sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery that could have a total value of US$1.8 billion, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
Reuters reported last week that the White House was moving forward with five separate sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan with a total value of around US$5 billion as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on China and concerns rise about Beijing's intentions toward Taiwan.
Among other weapons systems, Wednesday's formal notifications to Congress by the State Department were for 11 truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp called a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), for an estimated cost of US$436.1 million.
The notifications also covered 135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) Missiles and related equipment made by Boeing, for an estimated US$1.008 billion, and six MS-110 Recce external sensor pods made by Collins Aerospace for jets, at an estimated cost of US$367.2 million.
Further congressional notifications are expected to follow Wednesday's including drones made by General Atomics and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles, made by Boeing, to serve as coastal defence cruise missiles.
Sources have said the 100 cruise missile stations and 400 missiles would have a cost of about US$2 billion.
Reuters was first to report in September that sales of major weapons systems to Taiwan were making their way through the US export process.
The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, but this is unlikely given broad bipartisan support for the defence of Taiwan.
The SLAM-ER missiles will help Taiwan "meet current and future threats as it provides all-weather, day and night, precision attack capabilities against both moving and stationary targets" on the ground or ocean surface, a statement from the State Department said.
China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, has stepped up pressure toward the island over the past year, sending attack and surveillance aircraft into its airspace and ships near its waters.
Last week Beijing released video of a military exercise simulating an invasion of a Taiwan-like territory featuring missile strikes and amphibious landings.
TAIWAN SAYS IT'S NOT SEEKING ARMS RACE
The defence and foreign ministries in Taiwan welcomed the news, saying the weapons would help improve defensive capabilities.
"This arms sale shows that the United States attaches great importance to the strategic position of the Indo-Pacific region and the Taiwan Strait, and is actively assisting our country in strengthening our overall defence capabilities," Taiwan's defence ministry said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Defence Minister Yen De-fa said Taiwan is not seeking to get involved in an arms race with China but does need a credible combat capability.
Yen thanked the United States and said the sales were to help Taiwan improve its defensive capabilities to deal with the "enemy threat and new situation".
"This includes a credible combat capability and asymmetric warfare capabilities to strengthen our determination to defend ourselves," he added.
"This shows the importance attached by the United States to security in the Indo Pacific and Taiwan Strait. We will continue to consolidate our security partnership with the United States."
China is likely to condemn the new weapons sale, as it always does, but Yen said Taiwan was not looking for confrontation.
"We will not engage in an arms race with the Chinese Communists. We will put forward requirements and build fully in accordance with the strategic concept of heavy deterrence, defending our position and defensive needs."
The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but China's foreign ministry said last week that US arms sales to Taiwan severely damaged China's sovereignty and security interests.
It urged Washington to cancel the planned sales and warned that China would "make a legitimate and necessary response according to how the situation develops".
The US administration has stepped up pressure on Beijing in the run-up to the Nov 3 US presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key foreign policy theme.
Washington has been eager to see Taiwan bolster its defensive capabilities in the face of increasingly aggressive Chinese moves toward the island.
Last week, the US national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said that while China probably was not ready to invade Taiwan for now, the island needed to "fortify itself" against a future attack or any bid to isolate it through non-military means, such as an embargo.