U.S. advances sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan

The White House has advanced a proposal to sell $8 billion worth of advanced F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a move that would likely anger strategic rival Beijing, a senior U.S. senator confirmed Friday.

Marco Rubio, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, called the administration's decision to forward Taiwan's request for 66 F-16s to Congress for approval "an important step in support of Taiwan's self-defense efforts."

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"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," Rubio said.

Taiwan's plan to upgrade its air defenses comes amid increasing Chinese air force incursions into its air space.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a part of China awaiting reunification but the island is self-ruled and is a close ally of the United States.

Taiwan already has a fleet of old-model F-16s purchased in 1992, which have undergone several crucial upgrades.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin says the newest version, the F-16 Block 70/72, includes many avionics, weapons and radar technologies not in existence when earlier models were created.

It is structurally stronger, the company says, so that it "can fly and fight to 2070 and beyond."

Taiwan requested the aircraft earlier this year, and the sale has to be reviewed by the State Department and Pentagon, and then approved by the Senate and House foreign relations committees before going back to the State Department for final approval.

"I urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee to quickly advance this critical arms sale," Rubio said.

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