US Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to embark on a state visit to China in the middle of next month, will provide assurances to Beijing that the US has no plans to sell Taiwan the F-16C/D aircraft it is seeking, reports said yesterday.
During his visit, Biden will explain why the US President Barack Obama’s administration, facing pressure from US Congress and required to meet its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, would agree to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of 144 F-16A/B aircraft, the Chinese-language news service DW News (多維新聞) reported, citing an unnamed “senior US official.”
However, Biden will reportedly tell his Chinese hosts that Washington has no plans to sell to Taiwan the 66 more advanced F-16C/D it has been seeking since 2006, the report said.
An official announcement on Washington’s decision not to release the F-16C/Ds and to proceed on the upgrade plan will be made in September, it said.
Contacted for comment, US-based officials knowledgeable about arms sales to Taiwan could not -corroborate the information about Biden’s planned assurances, nor could the identity of the “senior official” be independently ascertained.
At press time, the Taipei Times was still awaiting a response from Biden’s office.
The US$4.5 billion upgrade program for the F-16A/Bs is seen as unlikely to cross Beijing’s “red line” on arms sales to Taiwan. While China is expected to go through the motions and make a solemn protest, few believe that it would result in the renewed suspension of military exchanges between the US and China, as happened following the announcement by Washington of a US$6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan in January last year.
During an official visit to the US earlier this year, People’s Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde (陳炳德) said that while Beijing would react to any US arms sales to Taiwan, the severity of its reaction would depend on the nature of the sale.
Other factors, such as whether Obama will meet the Dalai Lama on his current visit to the US, could influence how Beijing responds.
Ministry of National Defense spokesperson David Lo (羅紹和) would not confirm the veracity of the report to the Taipei Times, adding that procurement requests for the F-16C/Ds from the US was a firm policy of the country.
Asked for comment, Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the Department of North American Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), said the ministry had noted reports in the media about the planned visit to China by Biden and “would closely monitor those developments.”
Biden’s visit will be followed by a visit to the US by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) at the end of the year. The plans were finalized during the state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to the US early this year, Linghu said.
Biden’s visit to China and Xi’s to the US are major events this year for the US, he said, adding that in accordance with precedent, Washington would brief Taipei on the meetings between senior Chinese and US officials before and afterwards.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan and Rich Chang