- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2019

The Trump administration on Friday gave the green light to an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan in a move that is all but certain to anger China amid a bitter trade dispute between Washington and Beijing.

The State Department submitted the sale’s package for “informal review” on Thursday, multiple media outlets reported. The deal marks the biggest weapons sale to Taiwan in modern history, and is almost certain to anger Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, Idaho Republican, said in a statement “these fighters are critical to improving Taiwan’s ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which is under increasing pressure” from Beijing.

The bipartisan leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a joint statement praising the sale, and said it “sends a strong message about the U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the Indo-Pacific.”

“As [China] steps up its military aggression in the region, we need to do all we can to support our friends around the world. … it will help deter China as they threaten our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government,” wrote panel Chairman Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, and Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the committee’s ranking Republican.

But the plane deal could throw a wrench into ongoing trade talks between China and Washington, with negotiators from both sides set to meet next month to work out their differences on trade. The move could also complicate U.S.-Chinese ties on issues such as Hong Kong and North Korea.

Taiwan already uses the Lockheed Martin-made F-16 heavily in its air force. The F-16V aircraft that was purchased is the most advanced of its kind, marking an upgrade from the F-16A/B models the military currently owns.

Taipei is hoping to be approved to purchase the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet in the future.

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s pro-independence prime minister, has been building up the island’s military forces with U.S.- and domestically produced weaponry as a buffer against Chinese aggression.

Taiwan this week unveiled a new budget for the coming year that included an 8.3% jump in defense spending, the biggest such increase in more than a decade.

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