Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanked the United States on Tuesday for approving the sale of 66 advanced F-16V fighter jets and urged rival China to respect Taiwan’s right to defend itself.
President Donald Trump announced approval of the $8 billion deal on Sunday. The sale is expected to further inflame U.S. relations with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
Tsai on Tuesday also applauded previous arm sales already announced by Trump’s administration, saying those reaffirmed the United States’ “long-standing commitment to helping maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Trump’s announcement begins a period of consultation with Congress, and a formal announcement of the sale could be made as early as next month unless lawmakers object. The State Department, which would ultimately authorize the sale, declined to comment, but members of Congress from both parties welcomed the proposal.
China fiercely opposes all arms sales to Taiwan but has specifically objected to advanced fighter jets such as the F-16V, whose Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar is compatible with the F-35 stealth fighters operated by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines. The U.S. is also installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan’s existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.
While the U.S. cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 in order to recognize Beijing, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.
Since 2008, U.S. administrations have notified Congress of more than $24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including in the past two months the sale of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, valued at $2.2 billion. The Trump administration alone has notified Congress of $4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.
Tsai has rejected Chinese pressure to unite Taiwan and China under a “one-country, two-systems” framework and soon after her 2016 inauguration, Beijing cut contacts with her government over her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is part of China.
Beijing has sought to increase Taiwan’s international isolation by reducing its diplomatic allies to just 17 and stepped up military intimidation, including by holding military exercises across the Taiwan Strait and circling the island with bombers and fighters in what are officially termed training missions.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had “made solemn complaints” to the U.S. over the planned F-16V sale. Geng called on Washington to “fully recognize the serious dangers of the arms sale to Taiwan” and cancel it immediately or bear the consequences.
“China will take necessary measures to safeguard its own interests according to the development of the situation,” Geng said.