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September 20, 2017

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F-16C/D issue fuels fight in Washington

A U.S. senator on Friday accused President Barack Obama of capitulating to China amid mounting expectation the U.S. will refuse to sell new F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

The administration is instead expected to upgrade Taiwan's existing fleet of F-16s sold to the self-governing island in the 1990s, but it has yet to make a formal announcement, which is due by Oct. 1.

Administration officials provided a classified briefing Friday on the issue to Congressional staff.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said if reports are true that the U.S. would not sell new planes to Taiwan, "it represents a slap in the face to a strong ally and longtime friend."

"This sale would have been a win-win, bolstering the national security of two democratic nations and supporting jobs for an American work force that desperately needs them," Cornyn said in a statement.

Cornyn is from Texas, where the Lockheed Martin plant that would build the F-16s is located.

The United States is obligated to provide Taiwan with weapons for its self-defense, and there is strong support in both parties in Congress for the F-16 sales. But providing the planes would anger China, which regards self-governing Taiwan as part its territory.

Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, said he welcomed the reported decision of the administration to upgrade Taiwan's existing F-16s but called it a "half-measure."

"Taiwan needs more advanced fighter aircraft to adequately defend itself against the continued and increasing Chinese military threat," he said in a statement.

The United States has decided not to sell Taiwan new F-16C/D fighter jets and will instead provide upgrades to its existing planes, a U.S. congressional source said Friday.

The U.S. State Department was to brief key lawmakers Friday on the decision, which was sure to anger China critics in the U.S. Congress and upset Taiwan, but "no official announcement will be made for weeks," the official said.

"We are hearing from State that it will be an upgrade and no sale," the source, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

U.S. magazine Defense News reported recently that Washington had told Taiwan it will not sell the jets, but both U.S. and Taiwan officials have insisted no final decision has been made, amid strong Chinese resistance to the sales.

The White House in January 2010 had announced a US$6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan which included Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and equipment for Taiwan's existing F-16A/B fleet, but no submarines or new fighter jets.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Washington recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei but remains a leading arms supplier to the island.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the U.S. nixed the sale to maintain military relations with China, which cut off military ties with Washington after Obama authorized US$6.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010.

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