Republicans press for F-35 fighter jet sale to Taiwan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior U.S. Republican senators asked the Trump administration on Monday to allow the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighter jets to Taiwan, saying it would help it "remain a democracy" in the face of threats from China. "These fighters will have a positive impact on Taiwan's self-defense and would act as a necessary deterrent to China's aggressive military posture across the Asia-Pacific region," Senators John Cornyn, the assistant majority leader, and James Inhofe, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to President Donald Trump. "After years of military modernization, China shows the ability to wage war against Taiwan for the first time since the 1950's," they wrote. "However, with your leadership, it is possible to help Taiwan remain a democracy, free to establish a relationship with China that is not driven by military coercion." The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The sale of the jets could increase tensions with Beijing, where officials were infuriated when Trump signed legislation this month that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa. The U.S. military has put countering China and Russia at the center of a new national defense strategy unveiled by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in January. Other U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific region, such as Singapore, also are exploring the purchase of the stealthy F-35. Lockheed hit its 2017 target to deliver 66 F-35 fighter jets to the United States and its allies last year. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Mike Stone; editing by James Dalgleish)