Top GOP senators push Trump to sell F-35s to Taiwan to deter China

Top GOP senators push Trump to sell F-35s to Taiwan to deter China

Two top Republican senators on Monday urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE to sell Taiwan F-35 or F-16 fighter jets to bolster the small nation’s air defense and deter “China's aggressive military posture.”

In a letter, Senate Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senate Armed Services Committee member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked Trump to “commit to providing new, U.S.-made fighters to aid in Taiwan's self-defense.”

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

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Earlier this month, Taiwan defense officials publicly confirmed they were still interested in acquiring the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 joint strike fighters. Cornyn and Inhofe wrote that President Tsai Ing-wen had specifically asked about buying the Marine Corps’ F-35B variant, which takes off and lands vertically.

An F-35 sale would add to Taiwan’s aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons, which the United States sold the nation in 1993. The older and dwindling F-16s — down from 150 original fighters to 65 field-ready planes — are “not enough to maintain a credible defense” against China, according to the senators.

"The survivability of the F-35B and modern long-range sensors could help Taiwan intercept Chinese missiles, promoting deterrence well into the next decade," they wrote.

But should a F-35B sale be premature, Cornyn and Inhofe suggested that Trump sell Taiwan newer Lockheed F-16Vs.

“If Taiwan's air defense fleet is allowed to degenerate in number and quality, I am concerned that it would be destabilizing and would encourage Chinese aggression to ensue,” they wrote. “Additionally, I am concerned that Taiwan's military weakness and the inability to mount a credible air force would place an undue burden on forward-deployed U.S. forces in North East Asia.”

The issue of selling U.S. fighter jets to Taiwan has been a point of tension between Washington and Beijing for years. The Obama administration in 2012 reversed its long-standing opposition to arming the small island nation with American warplanes, acknowledging that Taiwan's current F-16 fighter fleet would not be able to counter a potential Chinese attack.

The White House's previous policy stance had been that the United States only needed to provide incremental upgrades to the fighters in order for Taiwan to keep the Chinese at bay.  

Washington considers Taiwan an ally but has followed an ambiguous official policy in which it formally recognizes the existence of "One China," of which the U.S. considers Taiwan a part. Beijing, meanwhile, claims authority over the island. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States provides arms to Taipei.