(Adds Taiwan comment in sixth paragraph)
WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department cleared the potential sale of four sophisticated U.S.-made aerial drones to Taiwan in a formal notification sent to Congress, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, the last step before finalizing a weapons sale that will further anger China.
The $600 million deal would be the first such sale since U.S. policy on the export of sophisticated and closely guarded drone technology was loosened by the Trump administration.
Reuters reported in recent weeks on the administration moving ahead with four other sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan, with a total value of around $5 billion, as it ramps up pressure on China and concerns rise about Beijing’s intentions toward the island.
Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that it has vowed to bring under control, by force if necessary. Washington considers it an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.
In response to the sales, China's Ministry of National Defense said here on Oct. 27, "China strongly urges the U.S. side to immediately withdraw plans of arms sales to Taiwan, cease US-Taiwan military contacts and stop selling weapons to the island."
In Taipei, Taiwan’s foreign ministry thanked the U.S. government for its “security assurance” and said the arms sales will further boost Taiwan’s defence capacity.
The U.S. State Department’s formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, which is unlikely given broad bipartisan support for the defense of Taiwan.
The four MQ-9 SeaGuardian drones, made by General Atomic Aeronautical System, Inc of San Diego, California, would come with associated ground stations, spares and training. While the drones are armable, they will be outfitted with surveillance equipment.
Reuters reported in September that sales of major weapons systems to Taiwan were making their way through the U.S. export process.
On Oct. 21, the State Department sent notifications to Congress for the first tranche of arms sales to Taiwan. They included truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp, Rocket System (HIMARS) Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles and related equipment made by Boeing Co, and external sensor pods for F-16 jets.
On Oct. 26 the United States moved ahead with the proposed sale of 100 cruise missile stations and 400 land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles made by Boeing Co.
Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, D.C. and Patricia Zengerle in Graham, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; Editing by Leslie Adler, Tom Brown & Shri Navaratnam