Thu, Oct 06, 2011 - Page 1 News List

US mulling new arms sales to Taiwan

FOX IN THE HENHOUSE:US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen accused the Obama administration of ‘cozying up to Beijing with a wink and a nod’ on arms sales to Taiwan

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington, with REUTERS

US President Barack Obama’s administration is weighing fresh arms sales to Taipei as part of a sweeping effort to deter any Chinese attack on Taiwan, administration officials told the US Congress on Tuesday.

Such supplies would be on top of plans sent to Congress on Sept. 21 to sell Taiwan US$5.85 billion in new hardware and defense services, including upgrades for its 145 F-16A/B aircraft, bought in 1992.

Beijing deems arms sales to Taiwan a grave interference in its domestic affairs and the biggest obstacle to improved relations between the world’s two largest economies.

“We are consulting with Taiwan on a full range of capabilities, so they’re aware of the threat and they can undertake the defensive preparations,” US acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Peter Lavoy said before a House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on “Why Taiwan Matters.”

Lavoy declined to discuss details of a potential follow-up sale, but he said the administration was still considering Taipei’s five-year-old request for 66 F-16C/Ds, valued at US$8.3 billion, in addition to the pending upgrade of its F-16A/Bs.

Beijing’s sustained investment in armed forces continues to shift the military balance in its favor in the Taiwan Strait, he said.

China has deployed as many as 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles as well as growing numbers of medium-range ballistic missiles and land-attack cruise missiles targeting Taiwan, Lavoy said.

“The F-16 retrofit reflects a smart defense policy that provides real and immediate contributions to Taiwan’s security. The retrofitted F-16A/Bs will provide a more reliable, survivable and capable aircraft — comparable to the F-16C/D, but at a lower cost,” he said.

The US would continue to build military-to-military ties with Taiwan, Lavoy said, “to ensure Taiwan has the ability to defend itself today and in the future.”

Despite harsh criticism from committee members, administration officials present at the hearing refused to give ground and insisted they were acting in Taiwan’s best interests.

Time and again, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell has “categorically” denied that China had been consulted or that opposition to the sale from Beijing had played any role in the final decision.

House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen opened the two-hour hearing by declaring that Taiwan had been neglected by the White House.

She said the Obama administration had “beaten a steady retreat” from its obligations and had not provided sufficient means for Taiwan’s defense.

“The decision not to sell Taiwan the next generation of F-16 fighters is a decision with potentially grave repercussions. Why must we appear so timid before Beijing?” Ros-Lehtinen asked.

“And what message does such timidity, in the face of Beijing’s growing belligerence, send to our treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia?” she asked.

She accused the administration of “cozying up to Beijing with a wink and a nod” on arms sales to Taiwan.

“Is it customary to give the clearly potential adversary the game plan for the defense of a friend and strategic partner?” she asked. “Isn’t that like telling the fox the location of each chicken in the henhouse?”

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