China-US relations

US senators tell Donald Trump sale of F-35 fighters will help Taiwan ‘remain a democracy’

Aircraft will have a ‘positive impact on Taiwan’s self-defence, act as a deterrent to Beijing’s aggression, senior officials say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 10:24pm

Two senior Republican senators in the United States on Monday asked the Trump administration to allow the sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Taiwan, saying it would help the self-ruled island to “remain a democracy” in the face of threats from mainland China.

Beijing’s hostility towards Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory since the two sides split after the end of the civil war in 1949.

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

“After years of military modernisation, [mainland] China shows the ability to wage war against Taiwan for the first time since the 1950s,” they wrote. “However, with your leadership, it is possible to help Taiwan remain a democracy, free to establish a relationship with [mainland] China that is not driven by military coercion.”

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

The sale of the jets could increase tensions with Beijing, which was infuriated after Trump signed legislation this month that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet their 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 to 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.

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

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

The US military has put countering China and Russia at the centre of a new national defence strategy unveiled by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in January.

Other US allies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Singapore, also are exploring the purchase of the stealthy F-35.

Lockheed hit its 2017 target to deliver 66 F-35 fighter jets to the US and its allies last year.