The U.S. may finally sell Taiwan the warplanes it has sought for more than a decade to defend against China. Their arrival would deal more of a political shock than a military blow to Beijing.

Trump administration officials have given tacit approval to Taipei's request to buy more than 60 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16s, according to people familiar with the matter, setting the stage for the first such deal since 1992. While a few dozen fighter jets would hardly tip the military balance against the increasing powerful Chinese military, it would signal a new American willingness to back the democratically run island.

"For Beijing, it would be a huge shock," said Wu Shang-su, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "But it would be more of a political shock than a military shock. It would be, 'Oh, the U.S. doesn't care how we feel.' It would be more of a symbolic or emotional issue."