By Bryan Pietsch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress should move quickly with an $8 billion (6.59 billion pounds) sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan as the self-ruled island faces pressure from China’s increased military presence in the region, leading U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers said on Friday.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, a Republican, said in a statement that he welcomed the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp’s <LMT.N> F-16 jets to boost Taiwan’s “ability to defend its sovereign airspace,” which he said is “under increasing pressure” from China.
The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-governed island under its control.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, Jim Inhofe, said in a joint statement with fellow Republican Senator John Cornyn that Taiwan “remains an important pillar of security and stability” in the region. The sale of the jets will “deter aggression given Beijing’s increasing assertiveness and military buildup,” they said.
Similarly, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, and the panel’s ranking Republican, Michael McCaul, said in a joint statement that the deal “sends a strong message” about U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the region.
Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both Republicans, also issued statements backing the deal.
After the United States approved sales of tanks and Raytheon Co’s <RTN.N> anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Taiwan in July, China said it was “ready to go to war” if people “try to split Taiwan from the country.”
Beijing said it would impose sanctions on U.S. companies involved in any deals. The United States and China are embroiled in a wider trade war.
On Thursday, Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade, to T$411.3 billion ($13.11 billion.)
The United States has no formal ties with self-ruled and democratic Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself. China has repeatedly denounced U.S. arms sales to the island.
(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)