A senior US lawmaker said Monday that she spoke to Taiwan's leaders about the need to upgrade the island's air force, after the House of Representatives voted to force the sale of new F-16s.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is leading a delegation of US House members to Taiwan and said she met Monday with President Ma Ying-jeou and the opposition.
Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican and outspoken critic of China, said that she discussed Taiwan's "growing need" for new F-16 fighter-jets. Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, to be a province awaiting reunification.
"Taiwan's military, and particularly its airpower, is in critical need of upgrades in order to maintain the balance in cross-strait relations," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement issued in Washington.
"As Beijing steeply increases military spending and continues to pursue policies bullying American friends and allies near the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, it is dangerous for our nation's interests and priorities in the region to allow Taiwan's defense capabilities to decline," she said.
The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Friday to force President Barack Obama's to sell Taiwan 66 new F-16 warplanes. The measure still needs approval by the Senate, where Obama's Democratic Party holds the majority.
The Barack Obama administration authorized a $5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan's existing fleet in September. But it held off on the sale of brand-new jets, in a decision widely seen as aimed at preserving cooperation with China on a host of other issues from trade to North Korea to Iran.
China on Monday denounced the House vote on F-16s as "grave interference in China's internal affairs." China had also criticized the September deal, but many US analysts saw its reaction as muted due to the absence of new jets.
The United States does not recognize Taiwan. But the island enjoys strong support in Congress, which under a 1979 law requires the administration to provide for the island's self-defense.