By Carlo Muñoz - 05/18/12 04:45 PM EDT
Lawmakers included a measure by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) that clears the way for the controversial arms deal to Taiwan in the House version of the defense authorization legislation early Friday morning.
But the move could inflame already tenuous U.S.-Sino relations if its included in the House-Senate version of the bill sent to the White House later this year.
The issue of fighter sales to Taiwan has been a sore subject between the United States and China in recent years.
In May, the Obama administration stoked those tensions when it reversed its long-standing opposition to arming Taiwan with American warplanes.
For the first time, administration officials acknowledged that Taiwan's current fighter fleet is inadequate to counter a potential Chinese incursion across the Taiwan Strait.
The White House's previous policy stance had been that Taiwanese air power was sufficient to repel a Chinese attack, and the United States only needed to provide incremental upgrades to their fighters.
That shift in policy was seen by some as part of the administration's tougher stance against China, designed in part to counter GOP criticisms of the White House's record on China ahead of the presidential election in November.
But the shift effectively opened the door for congressional action like the Granger amendment to provide Taiwan with the aircraft.
The amendment also coincides with the release of the Pentagon's latest assessment of China's military capabilities on Friday.
The report details Beijing's efforts field a new aircraft carrier, along with China's plans to develop a new anti-ship ballistic missile and a jet fighter designed to rival the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
This slate of new military hardware will help China pursue a slew of “new historic missions” that could expand its military operations and presence beyond its traditional borders and further into the Asia-Pacific region, according to a summary of the DOD report.