A Taiwan diplomatic source was quoted in The Washington Times as saying the F-16s were needed to replace ageing warplanes.

The new deal is part of an $11bn arms package first offered in 2001 under George Bush, the former US president, and which has been provided in stages because of political and budgetary considerations in Taiwan and the United States.

The US awarded a contract worth nearly $970m to Lockheed Martin for the provision of air defence missiles and another worth over $1bn to Raytheon Co for the production of patriot missiles for Taiwan, according to a New York Times report earlier this month.

Renegade province

The latest sale had been widely expected, with Beijing warning of an impact on ties with Washington and reiterating earlier this month its objection to any deal.

The inclusion of F-16s in the arms package was considered "too provocative" [EPA]
China announced on January 12 the successful test of its interceptor missile as part of its advanced air defence capabilities, a move experts say was an indirect reaction to the weapons sale.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has vowed to bring the island eventually back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.

The US government, on the other hand, is bound by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act which obliges Washington to ensure the island is capable of responding to Chinese threats, and to sell defensive weapons to it.

In a report to Congress last year the Pentagon said China's military build-up includes development of new advanced ballistic and cruise missiles that would be used against US forces if they were to defend Taiwan against attacks from the mainland.

In 2008, China suspended most military dialogue with Washington after the Bush administration approved a $6.5bn arms package to Taiwan that included guided missiles and attack helicopters.