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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (centre) looks at a US F-16 jet model at the Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition in Taipei on August 15. The US is selling US$8 billion worth of the fighter aircraft to Taiwan. Photo: EPA-EFE

Trump administration notifies US Congress of plan to sell F-16s to Taiwan

  • US State Department approves sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, while Defence Department notifies Congress
  • Approval comes days after Beijing warns of ‘consequences’ if sale is completed

The Trump administration formally notified Congress on Tuesday of its plans to authorise an US$8 billion sale of 66 F-16 fighter aircraft to Taiwan over Beijing’s objections, in a step that makes the deal all but certain.

The State Department said it approved the sale to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, Taiwan’s de facto embassy, and the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, an arm of the Department of Defence, delivered formal notification to Congress. Both steps are required for such deals.

The Chinese foreign ministry hit back on Wednesday, saying Beijing would take countermeasures.

“China will take all necessary measures to safeguard our interests, including imposing sanctions on the US companies taking part in this arms sale to Taiwan,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

A US State Department spokesman said the deal did not change Washington’s long-standing adherence to the “one China” policy.

While Washington is committed to defending Taiwan under its Taiwan Relations Act, passed soon after the US re-established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing, the law’s wording is ambiguous, and recent administrations have been relatively wary of upsetting relations with China. The last sale of military aircraft to Taipei was a quarter century ago.

The Trump administration has informed Congress it plans to sell F-16 fighters worth US$8 billion to Taiwan in a move that will inflame already high tensions with China. Photo: AP

Beijing views any arms sales to Taiwan as a violation of the policy and regards the self-governing island as a rogue Chinese province subject to eventual unification with China by force if necessary.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying last week urged the US not to sell the fighter aircraft and to halt all military contact with Taiwan or “the Chinese side will surely make strong reactions, and the US will have to bear all the consequences”, she added, without providing details.

Tuesday’s formal notification, following an “informal” notice on Friday, included an assessment that the hardware sale “will not alter the basic military balance in the region”, another point that Beijing would likely disagree with.

The proposed deal involves the F-16C/D variations, also known as the Viper, an advanced version of the F-16s currently in Taiwan’s arsenal.

The Vipers can carry a wide range of short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles to better counter threatened air strikes from mainland China’s fourth-generation aircraft like the Su-35 and J-10, according to military experts. The deal will also allow President Donald Trump to boast about the American jobs he has created for Lockheed Martin, the main builder, and a host of subcontractors, in the lead-up to his 2020 re-election bid.

Alex Huang, Taiwan’s Presidential Office spokesman, said the new fighter jets would greatly enhance Taiwan’s air defence capabilities.

“Taiwan will continue to strive to ensure cross-strait and regional peace and stability and safeguard Taiwan’s freedom and democracy in a responsible manner,” he added in a statement from the island’s representative office.

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The US-Taiwan Business Council also welcomed the announcement.

“The rejection of PRC coercion – along with rejecting its stated ‘red lines’ over certain capabilities such as new F-16s – fully restores American security interests related to Taiwan arms sales,” council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

While the sale can still in theory be derailed under a Congressional review lasting up to 30 days, legislative and military experts say this is extremely unlikely given broad White House and Congressional support.

The Defence Department said in its notification that the aircraft would face no difficulty integrating with Taiwan’s armed forces, would contribute to the defence of the island’s airspace, regional security, and to the island’s “interoperability” with the United States.

“This proposed sale serves US national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the filing added.

In addition to the aircraft, the deal includes 75 engines, generators, computers and 20mm guns – giving it in each case nine spares – along with various multipurpose launchers, guided and inert bomb equipment, radios, cryptographic devices, night vision gear and “Advanced Identification Friend or Foe” systems.

The defence agency did not address any possible steps aimed at keeping knowledge of the US technology out of China’s hands. In the past, Beijing has repeatedly compromised Taiwanese military plans and technological edge given the close economic, cultural and tourist links between the adversaries.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US Congress told of sale of 66 F-16s to Taiwan