WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lawmakers pushed the Obama administration Friday to strengthen relations with Taiwan and voiced concern that U.S. defense budget cuts will affect planned upgrades to the self-governing island's fleet of F-16s.
Both Republicans and Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee accused the administration of prioritizing U.S. relations with China over those with Taiwan, particularly when it comes to defense sales.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kin Moy responded: "I don't think that our Taiwan policy is founded on the principle of 'let's not make China mad'." He said the administration has approved $12 billion in defense sales to Taiwan since 2009.
Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the panel's senior Democrat, said he is very concerned about plans to defund an U.S. Air Force program next year to upgrade F-16s. He said it could impact Taiwan's ability to proceed with improvements to its fleet of about 150 F-16s at "reasonable cost."
Moy told lawmakers the upgrades of Taiwan's jets the U.S. authorized in 2011 would not be affected significantly.
The committee held its hearing to mark the upcoming 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act that guides U.S. policy toward the democratically governed island that mainland China claims as its own. Under the act, the U.S. is required to provide Taiwan with the weapons it needs for its defense. Major weapon sales invariably disturb U.S.-China relations.
Relations between China and Taiwan have improved in recent years, and last month, they held their highest-level government talks since they split amid civil war in 1949. But China still has an estimated 1,600 missiles pointed across the 100 mile-wide Taiwan Strait and threatens to attack if the island ever moves to make its de facto independence permanent.
Repeating a familiar demand, the U.S. lawmakers pressed the administration to authorize sales of new, more capable F-16s to Taiwan. They also questioned why the sale of diesel submarines that the U.S. tentatively agreed to in 2001 never went ahead.
The committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Ed Royce of California, urged the administration to invite Taiwan to join a trans-Pacific trade pact the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other nations, including Japan. He said it would be in America's strategic interest and would make Taiwan less reliant on trade with mainland China.
Moy said the U.S. welcomed Taiwan's interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but said it was best to move toward concluding the negotiations with the current members before adding more.
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