A senior Republican senator who called on President Donald Trump to allow the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Taiwan believes he will be receptive to the proposal given the administration's inclination to check China's economic and military rise.
"After eight years of international weakness from President Obama, President Trump is finally restoring America's place as the leader of the free world," Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) told the Washington Free Beacon. "We're no longer going to be afraid of doing what is right and standing up for our allies at the risk of offending our adversaries."
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Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have escalated since the island's 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. China claims Taiwan is under its sovereignty and refuses to renounce the option of deploying force against the democratic state should it pursue independence.
In a letter sent to Trump on Monday, Inhofe and Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) said Taiwan has a "legitimate requirement" to procure a modern fighter fleet to act as a deterrent to Chinese aggression in the Asia-Pacific.
"After years of military modernization, China shows the ability to wage war against Taiwan for the first time since the 1950s," they wrote to Trump. "However, with your leadership, it is possible to help Taiwan remain a democracy, free to establish a relationship with China that is not driven by military coercion."
The senators said that Taipei is requesting U.S. support to field the F-35B maritime model of the U.S. strike fighter given its capacity to take off from short runways and land vertically like a helicopter. Defense One noted this would prove crucial in a war with China, which would likely prevent Taiwan's traditional fighter jets from taking off by bombing its airfields.
Taiwan's Minister of National Defense, Yen De-fa, told the Free Beacon the country had not submitted a formal request to the United States to purchase the strike fighters, though he indicated openness to the idea.
"Future generation aircraft should be equipped with the capabilities of stealth, vertical take off and landing, and beyond-visual ranges," Yen said. "The F-35 is therefore one of the options. So far, Taiwan has not formally submitted its Letter of Request (LOR) to the United States. However, we appreciate the longstanding support of our friends in the U.S. Congress."
The White House has not yet responded to the letter.
John Venable, a retired fighter pilot who is now a senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, warned that selling the F-35 to Taiwan would "significantly" up the ante with China and pose more of a risk than a deterrent, Defense One reported.
Inhofe disagreed, noting China's growing military buildup and creation of militarized islands in the South China Sea southwest of Taiwan.
"The National Defense Strategy released this year rightfully acknowledged China as one of our greatest near-peer threats," Inhofe said. "Taiwan is an important ally who is on the front lines of the threat—it is imperative that we continue to support our democratic partner in the region."