Trump administration approves Taiwan purchase of $600 million in armed drones

Foreign Affairs

The Trump administration has approved over $4 billion in Taiwan arms sales in the two weeks up to and including the U.S. election day. However, the outcome of the election is not expected to change the trend of strengthening ties with Taiwan.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

One of the most significant foreign policy decisions by the Trump administration in the weeks leading up to the election has been to approve several large weapons sales to Taiwan.

  • Two weeks ago, we noted that $1.8 billion in rockets, launchers, and reconnaissance systems had been approved for sale by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
  • Beijing responded with sanctions on Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Defense and Raytheon Co., the three defense contractors that were named in those sales — but avoided taking action against Boeing itself, which has significant business interests in China.

Since then, two more batches of weapons have been approved for purchase by Taiwan.

  • A “$2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missile systems” was announced on October 26, per AP.
  • Yesterday, the Trump administration “notified Congress that it has approved the sale of $600 million in armed drones to Taiwan,” also per AP.
  • This adds up to sales to Taiwan “worth $4.8 billion in the past fortnight,” the FT notes, and the armed drones are meant to “help Taipei to spot Chinese preparations for an attack.”
  • As with previous sales, the Chinese foreign ministry today said (English, Chinese) that it would have a “timely and necessary reaction” (正当、必要反应 zhèngdāng, bìyào fǎnyìng).

What to expect from Beijing — and Biden

Beijing will almost certainly announce further sanctions of some kind, though the timing may depend on U.S. election results and also whether the arms sales encounter any hiccups in the 30-day review period that kicks off after Congress is notified.

Joe Biden, who will possibly become the next president based on incomplete election returns so far (and inevitable legal challenges to the results in some states), has said that he would continue to strengthen ties with Taiwan. This would be expected to include military sales, though perhaps not such a large quantity in as short a timeframe as what happened in the last two weeks.