The White House promised "serious consideration" Friday to selling new US fighter jets to Taiwan, winning the support from a senator who had blocked a Pentagon appointment as a protest.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, released a letter from the White House that said President Barack Obama's administration was "committed to assisting Taiwan" in closing a gap in airpower with China.
Cornyn's proposal to sell new F-16C/D jets "warrants serious consideration given the growing military threat to Taiwan," said the letter signed by Robert Nabors, an Obama aide tasked with relations with Congress.
Under US law, the administration is required to provide for the self-defense of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that China claims as its territory. The Obama administration authorized a $5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan's aging fighter jets in September.
The deal drew immediate criticism from Obama's Republican rivals, who argued that the sale of brand-new jets, while likely upsetting Beijing, would better defend Taiwan from a rising China as well as create US manufacturing jobs.
The Obama administration argued at the time that an upgrade rather than sale of new planes would more immediately address Taiwan's military needs.
But the letter to Cornyn said: "We are mindful of and share your concerns about Taiwan's growing shortfall in fighter aircraft as (its existing) F-5s are retired from service and notwithstanding the upgrade of the F-16A/Bs."
Cornyn had pressured the administration by placing a hold -- a legislative move under which a senator can block a nomination -- on Mark Lippert, whom Obama named to be the assistant secretary of defense in charge of Asia.
Cornyn announced that he was lifting his hold on Lippert but would still press the administration until it sells new warplanes to Taiwan.
"I commend the administration for recognizing that our friend and ally Taiwan's air force is woefully undersized and outgunned by communist China," he said in a statement.
China regularly protests any US arms packages for Taiwan. But its reaction to the September deal was comparatively muted, with US officials seeing little concrete retaliation such as the cancellation of visits.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are heading to Beijing next week for key annual talks between the United States and China.© ANP/AFP