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International relations

White House pushes ahead with $8bn arms sale to Taiwan

Trump administration builds bipartisan backing for prospective deal

A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter is seen taking part in an exercise over Estonia.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Financial Times) -- The Trump administration is pressing ahead with an $8bn sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan as Washington signals its support for Taipei in the face of a growing threat from China.

The state department submitted details of the proposed sales to lawmakers for informal review late on Thursday, according to several people familiar with the deal, after the White House gave the green light.

The deal would see the sale of 66 jets to the self-governing territory, and comes as tension between China and the US is heightened by difficult trade negotiations.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to invade if Taipei resists unification indefinitely.

The US is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself under the Taiwan Relations Act, a law passed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1971.

The House foreign affairs and Senate foreign relations committees are not expected to object to the prospective deal.

The senate committee's Republican chairman, Jim Risch, expressed support for the deal and said the sale of the fighter jets was "critical" to improving Taiwan's ability to defend its airspace from China.

"Taiwan is a steadfast partner of the United States in advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, and the United States remains firmly committed to supporting its defense," said Mr. Risch.

Eliot Engel, the Democrat chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, and Michael McCaul, the committee's top Republican, also expressed their support for the deal and said they were confident it would attract bipartisan support.

Both lawmakers said they had met with Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, when he visited New York last month on a two-day stopover.

China hawk Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, said the administration's move was "an important step in support of Taiwan's self-defense efforts."

"As the Chinese government and Communist Party seeks to extend its authoritarian reach in the region, it is critical that the United States continue to enhance our strategic relationship with our democratic partner Taiwan through regular and consistent support," he said.

In July, the US approved a smaller sale of around $2bn worth of Abrams tanks and missiles to the territory.

A state department official declined to comment on the deal, which it said was "potential or pending" and had not been formally sent to Congress.

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