Aug. 21 (UPI) -- The State Department submitted its approval to Congress for the $8 billion sale of 66 F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Tuesday published it's official approval of the deal, after a week of speculation at least partially fueled by Taiwan announcing it's largest defense budget ever.
The deal would be the largest and most significant sale of weaponry to Taiwan, known globally as the sovereign Republic of China but regarded as a breakaway province by the People's Republic of China.
In addition to 66 F-16 C/D Block 70 aircraft, the deal covers spares, weapons and radar systems, construction services and all associated documents and support for the aircraft.
"This proposed sale serves the U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient's continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defense capability," DSCA said in a press release, adding that Taiwan already operates the F-16 A/B and should have no difficulty absorbing the new aircraft into its armed forces.
The deal, under which Lockheed Martin would build the planes, comes as the United States and China assign tariffs to each other's imported goods and pro-democracy protests in semiautonomous Hong Kong could lead to a Chinese military crackdown which could include a confrontation with Taiwan.
Last Thursday Thursday, Taiwan passed an 8.3 percent increase it its 2020 military spending, and last month the United States approved the sales of over $2 billion in lower-level weapons sales.
By a law agreed to in 1979, Taiwan's armaments come exclusively from the United States. Thus far, the United States has denied Taiwanese requests to purchase the F-35 plane and other, more advanced weapons to counter China's military modernization, as well as China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
However, an air base in Taiwan for the new F-16s is under discussion by the United States, Taiwan and Lockheed Martin.
Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have suggested that the F-16 deal is an element of trade talks, to be used as leverage. U.S. President Donald Trump has thus far unsuccessfully attempted to link the upheaval in Hong Kong to the trade negotiations.
China has criticized what it called a "vain plot" to by the United States to arm Taiwan.