Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - Page 1 News List

US senator moves F-16C/D jet issue back to forefront

SAME TACTIC:John Cornyn is threatening to withhold another of Barack Obama’s nominations to pressure the president into selling the fighter jets to Taiwan

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

US Senator John Cornyn is again trying to pressure US President Barack Obama to sell F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan.

This time, he has issued a thinly veiled threat to hold up the nomination of Mark Lippert, a former Obama aide, to be US assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

In order to approve the Lippert nomination, Cornyn is demanding that the White House produce a “clear plan for addressing Taiwan’s aging and inadequate fleet of fighter jets.”

Using an almost identical tactic two months ago, Cornyn forced the Obama administration to publicly announce its decision on pending arms sales to Taiwan.

On that occasion, the president refused to sell the F-16C/Ds, but agreed instead to update the nation’s aging fleet of F-16A/Bs.

Just one day after the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously supported a bill that would force Obama to sell the F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan and a day after the first hearing on Lippert’s nomination, Cornyn rushed his letter up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

Cornyn said in the letter that the failure to sell F-16C/Ds to Taiwan sends a message that the US “is willing to abandon our friends in the face of Communist China’s intimidation tactics.”

“This is a dangerous state of affairs for both Taiwan and the US. Understandably, your decision to withhold from Taiwan the military assistance it needs most has been interpreted by many as a sign of China’s growing international clout and America’s relative strategic decline,” he added.

According to Cornyn, a total of 47 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and 181 Democrats and Republicans in the House have publicly declared their support for the sale of the F-16C/Ds to Taiwan.

“America’s credibility in the Asia-Pacific region is at risk, and our policy towards Taiwan is symbolic of our overall position and influence there,” Cornyn said in the letter. “The US should neither give in to intimidation and threats from China, nor should we cede regional leadership. We must not abandon the free people of Taiwan and our longstanding strategic interest in the stability of East Asia.”

In closing the letter, Cornyn again raised the Lippert nomination.

He said he hopes to support the confirmation of Lippert, but he first wants Obama to “decide on a near-term course of action to address Taiwan’s looming fighter shortfall, and provide me with the specific actions you intend to take.”

Holding the Lippert nomination to ransom will almost certainly trigger a quick reply and at the very least keep the F-16 issue on the president’s desk.

The letter comes amid continuing concern among Taiwan supporters in the US over the growing number of academics and analysts who appear to favor sacrificing Taiwan to improve relations with China.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an op-ed by Paul Kane, a former international security studies fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, suggesting that the US could stop selling arms to Taiwan and announce that it would not defend the country in return for China writing off about US$1 trillion in debt owed by the US.

The article was met with almost universal condemnation and Kane has since declared that it was supposed to be a satire in the mode of Jonathan Swift.

Many commentators have written that the original op-ed was not a satire and that Kane was — in the words of Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute — advocating that Obama “sell his soul, and America’s along with it.”

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