Nearly half the Senate (45 members) surged President Obama on Thursday to authorize quickly the sale of F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan, a request that has been hanging for five years.
Taiwan says it needs the 66 planes to maintain a credible defense and provide leverage in negotiations with Beijing. U.S. agreement to the sale, worth billions of dollars, would anger China’s communist-led government and would set back improved U.S.-China relations.
“Without new fighter aircraft and upgrades to its existing fleet of F-16s, Taiwan will be dangerously exposed to Chinese military threats, aggression and provocation, which pose significant national security implications for the United States,” says a letter, signed by 45 of the 100 members of the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans.
Gary Locke, nominated to become U.S. ambassador to China, told lawmakers Thursday that no decision has been made on the sale, and the request for the F-16 C/Ds still is being evaluated by the Defense and State departments.He said China should reduce its military deployments aimed at Taiwan.
The Obama administration faces an awkward choice. It is obligated under U.S. law to provide Taiwan the means of self-defense. Approving the sale, however, could prompt China to cut military ties that the United States has worked hard to forge as a way of smoothing over tensions in the Asia-Pacific where China’s military buildup has caused widespread unease.