By John T. Bennett

A House panel on Thursday approved two measures urging the White House to sell Taiwan the newest version of the F-16 fighter jet.??

The bills were approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee weeks after the Obama administration announced in September it was moving forward with a $5.9 billion arms package for its Asian ally.  The White House sparked a controversy, however, by opting against selling the island nation F-16C/Ds, the most technically advanced model of the Lockheed Martin-made fighter jet.??

President Obama and his advisers instead opted to sell Taiwan upgrade kits that will improve the combat capabilities of 145 of Taipei’s existing F-16A/B fighters.  The White House has since been taking fire from friends and foes in the both chambers who want Washington to sell Taipei the newer model.??

The House panel took steps Thursday in pressing Obama to do just that.

One of the measures “directs the President to sell no fewer than 66 F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a news release.  That bill was authored by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.??

The other, written by Ros-Lehtinen, merely “encourages the president to approve the sale of F-16 C/D fighter aircraft to Taiwan, and authorizes that sale,” according to the news release.? But Ros-Lehtinen’s bill also would “add Taiwan to the visa waiver program, permit senior Taiwan leaders to meet with U.S. officials in all executive branches, and sign a comprehensive extradition agreement among other items.”??

On the F-16s issue, senior administration officials say going with the A/B upgrades would allow prime contractor Lockheed Martin to get Taiwan greater air power capabilities faster.??

A senior Lockheed Martin official, however, has told The Hill that because development work must first be completed to customize the A/B upgrade kits, the firm is unsure how the administration reached that conclusion.??

The issue is just one in a growing set surrounding how Washington should respond to China’s growing military might.

“Taiwan defense spending cannot match [China’s], nor can it develop the same type of military [China] is developing,” Peter Lavoy, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said in October.  “Taiwan needs to focus its planning and procurement efforts on nontraditional innovative and asymmetric approaches — there is no single solution.  Given this context, we believe the F-16A/B upgrade makes a significant contribution to Taiwan’s air power.”