US Republicans press for F-35 fighter jet sale to Taiwan in the light of China threats

A Lockheed Martin F-35B preparing for take-off on the flight deck of the amphibious assault carrier USS Wasp, in waters off Okinawa, on March 23, 2018.
A Lockheed Martin F-35B preparing for take-off on the flight deck of the amphibious assault carrier USS Wasp, in waters off Okinawa, on March 23, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Two senior US Republican senators asked the Trump administration on Monday (March 26) to allow the sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Taiwan, saying it would help it "remain a democracy" in the face of threats from China.

"These fighters will have a positive impact on Taiwan's self-defence and would act as a necessary deterrent to China's aggressive military posture across the Asia-Pacific region," Senator John Cornyn, the assistant majority leader, and Senator James Inhofe, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to President Donald Trump.

"After years of military modernisation, China shows the ability to wage war against Taiwan for the first time since the 1950's," they wrote.

"However, with your leadership, it is possible to help Taiwan remain a democracy, free to establish a relationship with China that is not driven by military coercion."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The sale of the jets could increase tensions with Beijing, where officials were infuriated when Mr Trump signed legislation this month that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.

 

On Tuesday, the office of Taiwan’s president reiterated its support for the legislation and awarded US Representative Ed Royce, who is currently visiting the island, a medal of honour for his contributions towards Taiwan-US relations. 

“President Tsai believes that stable relations between Taiwan and the US serve as an important foundation for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. 

"Taiwan has the ability and is willing to work with the United States in the Indo-Pacific region to make more contributions,” the presidential office said. 

Separately, Liu Jieyi, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told state television late on Monday that “certain Americans” were trying to play the 
Taiwan card, which harmed the interest of people both in China and Taiwan. 

“This is duping Taiwan compatriots,” Liu said, without naming any U.S. officials. “It is futile for any outside forces to try and play the 
Taiwan card and doing anything to harm the interest of the Chinese people.”

The US military has put countering China and Russia at the center of a new national defense strategy unveiled by Defence Secretary James Mattis in January. Other US allies in the Asia-Pacific region also are exploring the purchase of the stealthy F-35.

Lockheed hit its 2017 target to deliver 66 F-35 fighter jets to the United States and its allies last year (2017).