U.S. senators urge Trump to back Taiwan procurement of F-35s

United States President Donald J. Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk in front of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as they arrive for the President to deliver remarks to military personnel and families in a hanger at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Friday, September 15, 2017. The F-35 is a plane the President has criticized in the past. He visited JBA to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the US Air Force. Credit: Ron Sachs / CNP ' NO WIRE SERVICE ' Photo by: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Washington, March 26 (CNA) Two United States senators wrote to President Donald Trump on Monday asking him to support Taiwan’s procurement of F-35 fighter jets as soon as possible to boost Taiwan’s national defense capabilities.

James Inhofe and John Cornyn penned a joint letter to Trump urging his administration “to commit to providing new, U.S. made fighters to aid in Taiwan’s self-defense.”

Consistently strong supporters of Taiwan, the two Republican senators wrote the letter following a statement by Taiwan Defense Minister Yen Teh-fa (嚴德發) on March 15 reiterating the country’s interest in procuring the fighters.

In their letter, Inhofe and Cornyn pointed to the threat that China’s military modernization presents to Taiwan’s democracy and Taiwan’s current inability to maintain a credible defense, something they said would be solved with a modern fighter fleet.

They backed Taiwan’s procurement of the F-35B, which Yen said meets the needs of Taiwan’s Air Force with its short takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities.

“The survivability of the F-35B and modern long-range sensors could help Taiwan intercept Chinese missiles, promoting deterrence well into the next decade,” Inhofe and Cornyn wrote.

“The F-35B would not only provide a modern fifth-generation fighter, but would also bolster their capabilities in next-generation warfare.”

As an alternative, the senators wrote that the U.S. could make available “additional F-16Vs to address the quantitative and qualitative challenges confronting Taiwan’s fighter fleet” if it sees the sale of the F-35 fighters premature at the current time.

Either type of fighter jet will have a positive impact on Taiwan’s self-defense and in deterring Chinese military aggression across the Asia Pacific, they wrote.

The U.S.-Taiwan Business Council issued a statement supporting the letter.

“We believe that such a sale is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) requirement to provide Taiwan with arms to defend itself,” Council President Rupert Hammond-Chambers was quoted as saying in the statement.

It has been 25 years since Taiwan last bought new-build fighters, which is presenting a major challenge for its Air Force, the statement said.

“Failing to sell new-built fighters to Taiwan is to relegate the Taiwan Air Force to marginalization and eventual extinction,” Hammond-Chambers said.

These urgings come after U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said on March 15 that his command will continue to support Taiwan’s efforts to increase its self-defense capabilities through regular arms sales and military training.

(By Kuan-lin Liu and Chiang Chin-yeh)