WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators introduced legislation on Monday to require the Obama administration to sell 66 late-model Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters to Taiwan, a step that would anger China.
Taiwan hopes to buy the aircraft, a sale potentially valued at more than $8 billion, and intends to phase out its remaining F-5 fighters.
But China has warned repeatedly against the sale of F-16 C/D fighters to Taiwan, and last week China's official newspaper warned that "madmen" on Capitol Hill were playing with fire on the issue.
Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Robert Menendez said their bill would help bring the United States into compliance with its obligations to Taiwan, and they claimed it had "overwhelming" support among U.S. lawmakers.
However, any move to legislate a sale to Taiwan would have to be able to overcome any presidential veto -- a tall order requiring a two-thirds majority vote of members present in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
"This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.," Cornyn said in a statement. He is from Texas, where Lockheed Martin Corp manufactures the fighter jets.
"Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope," Cornyn said.
U.S. President Barack Obama is due by October 1 to say what, if anything, his administration plans to do to boost Taiwan's aging air force.
But analysts have told Reuters a full package of new jets is unlikely to be approved, saying the administration might instead offer Taiwan an upgrade on some existing F-16A/B jets worth $4.2 billion.
Beijing strongly opposes the potential arms sale to the island it deems an illegitimate breakaway province. But Taiwan says it needs the jets to counter China's growing military strength.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)