China hits US over House vote to sell Taiwan F-16 fighters

Chinese officials are criticizing the United States after the House voted last week to require the sale of at least 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday at a press conference that the vote “constitutes a grave interference in China’s internal affairs,” according to AFP.

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“We have noticed that the China-related amendment in this bill speculates on China’s military development and calls for arms sales to Taiwan. We are firmly opposed to that,” Hong said.

The sale of F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan has been a point of contention between China and the United States, and in 2011 the Obama administration announced it was approving a modernization package of Taiwan’s current F-16 planes, rather than selling new and more advanced fighters.

But earlier this month the Obama administration indicated that Taiwan’s current fleet was inadequate, opening the door for potential new sales. The policy shift went public at the same time that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were headed to China for a summit.

If the F-16 amendment becomes law, the United States would be required to sell Taiwan 66 Lockheed Martin-made F-16C/Ds.

The Taiwan fighter sales were included as an amendment from Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) to the defense authorization bill, which passed in the House Friday.

The amendment, which passed by voice vote, does not place a timeline on when the sales should occur.

Taiwan has long been a prickly issue in U.S.-China relations; China considers Taiwan to be part of its country, while Congress has passed laws that require the United States to help with Taiwan’s security.

The F-16 sales policy still faces a long road before it becomes law, as the Senate has yet to make public its version of the Defense authorization bill.

There are several backers of selling the fighters to Taiwan in the Senate, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has introduced a bill similar to Granger’s amendment.

Cornyn had placed a hold on the nomination of Mark Lippert as assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs over not selling Taiwan F-16C/Ds, which he lifted after the administration said it would consider the new sales.

Cornyn’s Taiwan bill includes a study that found the production of the F-16s would generate 23,000 jobs, and it’s not a coincidence that two Texans are pushing the issue: the planes would be manufactured in Lockheed Martin’s Forth Worth, Texas, plant.