The House of Representatives has voted to require the United States to sell 66 new fighter-jets to Taiwan, with lawmakers saying the deal would close a growing military gap with China.
The House of Representatives voted late Thursday to force President Barack Obama's administration to authorize the sales, as part of a slew of amendments to a defense bill adopted without objection in a marathon session.
The measure, which still needs approval by the Senate to become law, would require that the Obama administration approve Taiwan's request to buy 66 new F-16C/D jets in addition to plans already under way to upgrade existing planes.
The amendment's main sponsor, Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas, said that Taiwan needed more than an upgrade of its aging fleet in light of the rapid growth in military spending by China, which claims the island.
"The sale of F-16s to Taiwan ensures our key strategic ally in the Pacific has the defense capacity to defend its own airspace," Granger said in a statement when she introduced the measure.
"Our support for a democratic Taiwan is consistent with our national security priorities in the region and demonstrates that we will continue to stand by our friends and allies no matter who or where the threats are from," she said.
The Obama administration authorized a $5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan's existing jets in September but held off on the sale of brand-new jets.
The administration argued that the upgrade would bring more immediate benefits to Taiwan than a sale, but the move was widely seen as a way to limit criticism by China as a time the United States sought Beijing's help on other issues.
China publicly denounced the upgrade plan but US officials say that they have seen little concrete retaliation, such as a freeze on military relations, of the kind Beijing carried out after previous arms sales to Taiwan.
Senator John Cornyn, also a Republican from Texas, until last month blocked the confirmation of a Pentagon official until the White House said in a letter that it would give "serious consideration" to the sale of new jets.
The US Congress is a stronghold of support for Taiwan, where China's nationalists fled in 1949 after losing the civil war to the communists. The self-governing island has since developed into a prosperous democracy.
When the US switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, Congress approved a law that requires the administration to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.