By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is crafting a new weapons package for Taiwan that could include advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to defend itself against China, US officials said, a deal that is sure to infuriate Beijing.
The package is expected to be significantly larger than the one archived at the end of the Obama administration, officials told Reuters on the eve of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Beijing.
“The political desire is to make a substantial sale,” said an administration official, adding that internal deliberations had begun on an agreement “that is much stronger, much more meaningful than the one that was not accepted by the Obama people. “.
President Donald Trump’s administration is eager to continue sales, but the White House is expected to take months and possibly even next year to overcome hurdles, including concerns that Beijing’s sensitivity on Taiwan could hamper cooperation in priorities like in North Korea, the official said.
The finalization of a package could also be delayed by the slowness with which the Trump administration is filling national security positions, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because initial work toward selling new weapons has not been made public. .
Discussions between Taiwan and the new administration have already started, according to a person in Taipei familiar with the matter.
The White House declined to comment.
Details of the administration’s approach to Taiwan emerged when Tillerson was due to visit China this weekend, where he will seek more Chinese support for North Korea and confirm a first meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, expected next month. .
In December, the administration of President Barack Obama put a stop to a deal with Taiwan that was being debated. That package was worth $ 1 billion, Washington’s Free Beacon newspaper reported this week, citing unidentified officials, who were also quoted as saying the Trump administration was preparing new sales.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council under Obama, said the previous administration suspended a “relatively modest” arms package for Taiwan, in part to allow the new administration to make the decision.
The Trump administration source told Reuters that the new deals under consideration would likely exceed the $ 1 billion mark.
The new administration plans to focus more than the previous one on enhancing Taiwan’s “asymmetric” capabilities, possibly with advanced multi-launch rocket systems, anti-ship missiles, and other technologies that would allow the Taiwanese military to defend itself against a much larger Chinese force in the field. event. from an attack, the US official said.
Lockheed Martin Corp (N 🙂 is America’s leading manufacturer of multi-launch rocket systems. Other foreign companies involved in the sector include Germany’s Diehl and Britain’s BAE Systems (L :).
A $ 1.83 billion arms sale to Taiwan that Obama announced in December 2015, to China’s dismay, included two Navy frigates, as well as anti-tank missiles and amphibious attack vehicles.
The United States changed diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognizing Taiwan as part of “one China.” But successive administrations have continued to provide billions of dollars in arms as part of a requirement demanded by Congress to ensure the island can defend itself.
Taiwan has already been a major point of contention between Trump and China, which considers the island a renegade province.
As president-elect, Trump broke protocol and accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in December, infuriating China. He then suggested that he could abandon Washington’s “one China” policy, which accepts the autonomous island as part of China. Once in office, Trump reaffirmed America’s commitment to decades-long politics.
The White House is aware that tensions could flare up again over the sale of new weapons. But some Trump aides insist they are needed to make clear that the United States, Taiwan’s sole arms supplier, is committed to improving the island’s defenses.