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Taiwan Wants American F-16V Fighters but Will Washington Sell Them?

Taiwan Wants American F-16V Fighters but Will Washington Sell Them?

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

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Taipei is worried about China.

Key point: Washington wants to help Taiwan but is also wary of upsetting China too much.

A few months ago, the U.S. State Department announced it would approve a $2.2 billion arms deal with Taiwan including 108 Abrams main battle tanks and 250 Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missiles—a deal which elicited new sanctions from Beijing on the companies involved. 

But the announcement was more notable for what the approval didn’t include—a nearly done-deal for sixty-six F-16V jet fighters built fresh off the F-16 production line in Greenville, South Carolina.

This would have been the first sale of new Western combat jets to Taiwan since 1992—a fact not unrelated to Beijing’s claims that sales of jet fighters to the “renegade province” constitute a redline.

This stance caused three prior U.S. presidents to shy away from additional jet sales, but from the beginning, the Trump administration has proven consistently willing to disregard Beijing’s sensitivities regarding Taiwan. 

The absence of the F-16V deal from the July 8 approval was likely linked to U.S.-China negotiations to end a simmering trade war. Perhaps the Trump administration delayed or canceled the F-16V approval to avoid sabotaging the talks, or is withholding the jets as a possible bargaining chip to extract concessions from Beijing.

For now, the deal’s fate remains uncertain as Taipei and its allies in Congress lobby strongly for it to proceed.

Taiwan’s Precarious Status

Taiwan’s existence as de-facto independent polity is a sensitive issue in mainland China, as the island became a bastion of the Chinese Nationalists defeated by Mao’s Communists on the mainland in 1948. Since Taiwan democratized in the 1980s, regular skirmishes have given way to renewed diplomatic and economic ties with mainland China. 

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