The Bush administration must base its decisions on arms sales on security interests, not politics, leaders of a prestigious commission dealing with US-China relations said on Thursday, in what appeared to be a criticism of the administration's refusal to sell advanced F-16 fighter aircraft to Taiwan.
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in an annual report to Congress, recommended that Congress urge the administration to continue to sell Taipei weapons it needs to counter an attack by the People's Republic of China (PRC).
But the report stopped short of specifically urging the sale of the F-16s.
The chairman and vice chairman of the commission, answering press queries, said the failure to deal with the aircraft issue stemmed from timing and other issues and was not a result of a policy decision.
Vice Chairman Dan Blumenthal, a former senior Pentagon official dealing with China affairs, said: "We did not have enough time to deliberate on it. We discussed Taiwan earlier and the F16 issue was moving faster than we had a chance to catch up with."
However, he indicated that the commission favors the F-16 sale, and was not happy with the administration's decision to block it.
The commission feels "the administration is obligated to make these decisions based purely on security concerns and not political concerns," he said.
He was clearly referring to concerns by many in Washington that the administration is blocking the F-16 sales because of anger over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan for a referendum on entry into the UN under the name "Taiwan." China has vociferously objected to the referendum plan at a time when the US needs Chinese cooperation on several foreign policy issues.
On a broader level, Blumenthal said that the commission feels Congress "has to take a greater role in assuring the Taiwan Relations Act is being faithfully enacted and that the administration is doing everything it possibly can to undo the military imbalance across the Taiwan Strait."
The report says that the military balance in the strait "has shifted significantly in Beijing's favor."
The commission's recommendation urging greater arms sales to Taiwan was picked as one of its "top 10" recommendations for the year. All told, the report lists 42 recommendations dealing mainly with Chinese security and economic issues.
One recommendation that did not make the final cut in the commission's deliberations was one that urged the administration to consider Taiwan's bid for a free-trade agreement (FTA), but commissioners said the decision had more to do with domestic political attitudes toward FTAs generally than with the value of an FTA with Taiwan.
An early draft of the commission's recommendations included the FTA recommendation. But that was drawn up by staffers who felt the commissioners had a consensus behind the FTA.
The recommendation would have read, "While Taiwan still has work to do to prepare its economy for such an agreement, the commission recommends that the Congress ask the administration to closely monitor its progress and consider Taiwan's request to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement at such time that the necessary preliminary steps have been taken."
Blumenthal said the removal of that wording is "not about Taiwan. It's because there's a difference between Democrats and Republicans on FTAs in general, not Taiwan."