A US lawmaker said Thursday that nearly half the Senate would press for the sale of fighter jets to Taiwan, fearing that China was gaining a strategic edge over the self-governing island.
At a hearing on Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s nomination to be ambassador to China, Senator Robert Menendez said that some 40 members of the 100-member Senate would send a letter to President Barack Obama urging the sale to Taiwan.
Menendez, a member of Obama’s Democratic Party from New Jersey, said he was “extremely concerned” as China ramps up its military spending and the United States puts off a decision on selling F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.
“Therefore we will leave Taiwan in a position that is, I think, indefensible at the end of the day. And to me that will only exacerbate the situation,” Menendez said.
Saying it was “very rare” for so many lawmakers across party lines to send such a letter, Menendez urged Locke to be an advocate within the Obama administration for sale of F-16s to Taiwan.
Locke said no decision was made on the jets and repeated the general US official language on Taiwan – that the United States recognised only one China but was committed to the island’s defense.
“The United States stands with Taiwan to ensure that it can defend itself and that its self-defense capabilities are never eroded,” Locke said.
Beijing considers Taiwan, where China’s nationalists fled in 1949 after defeat by the communists, to be a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The United States in 1979 switched recognition to Beijing but Congress at the same time approved the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the administration to provide the island with weapons for defensive purposes.
The United States last year approved $6.4 billion in weapons for Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters, but did not include the F-16s.
Even without the fighter jets, China angrily protested and cut off military cooperation with the United States, although it has since normalised defense ties.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly sought the F-16s, despite his drive to improve ties with the mainland since taking office in 2008.