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US to sell fighter jets to Taiwan

Saturday, May 19, 2012    

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WASHINGTON, USA (AFP) — The US House of Representatives voted yesterday to sell 66 new fighter-jets to Taiwan, with lawmakers saying the deal would close a growing military gap with China.

The House of Representatives voted to force President Barack Obama's administration to authorise the sale of F-16 jets in addition to plans under way to upgrade existing planes. The measure still needs Senate approval.

The measure's main sponsor, Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas, said that Taiwan needed more than an upgrade of its aging fleet in light of the rapid growth in military spending by China, which claims the island.

"The sale of F-16s to Taiwan ensures our key strategic ally in the Pacific has the defense capacity to defend its own airspace," Granger said in a statement yesterday.

"Our support for a democratic Taiwan is consistent with our national security priorities in the region and demonstrates that we will continue to stand by our friends and allies no matter who or where the threats are from."

The Obama administration, whose Democratic Party controls the Senate, authorised a $5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan's existing jets in September but held off on the sale of brand-new jets.

The administration argued that the upgrade would bring more immediate benefits to Taiwan than a sale. But the move was widely seen as a way to limit criticism from China at a time when the US seeks Beijing's cooperation on a range of issues from trade disputes to standoffs with North Korea and Iran.

China publicly denounced the upgrade plan but US officials say they have seen little concrete retaliation, such as a freeze on military relations, of the kind Beijing carried out after previous arms sales to Taiwan.

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