By Bryan Pietsch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress should move quickly with an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan as China “seeks to extend its authoritarian reach” over the region, leading U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers said on Friday.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, a Republican, said in a statement that he welcomed the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16 jets to boost Taiwan’s “ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which he said is “under increasing pressure” from China.
The deal “sends a strong message” about U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the region, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot and Michael McCaul, the panel’s ranking Republican, said in a joint statement.
They said the move will deter China as Beijing threatens “our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government.”
The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-governed island under its control.
Senator Marco Rubio urged Congress to move forward with the deal, which he said in a statement is “an important step in support of Taiwan’s self-defense efforts” as China “seeks to extend its authoritarian reach” in the region.
Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that it is critical “now more than ever” for Taiwan to boost its defense capabilities.
After the United States approved sales of tanks and Raytheon Co’s <RTN.N> anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Taiwan in July, China said it was “ready to go to war” if people “try to split Taiwan from the country.”
Beijing said it would impose sanctions on U.S. companies involved in any deals. The United States and China are embroiled in a wider trade war.
On Thursday, Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade, to T$411.3 billion ($13.11 billion.)
The United States has no formal ties with self-ruled and democratic Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself. China has repeatedly denounced U.S. arms sales to the island.
(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; editing by Jonathan Oatis)