A senior US government official pledged on Friday that the refitting and upgrading of Taiwan’s F-16 jets would proceed as planned, with no extra costs to the nation.
Following a US Air Force budget decision not to refit 300 US F-16s, there had been widespread speculation that the price of the Taiwan deal would increase so much that it might no longer be possible to go ahead with it.
Yet, when congressmen grilled US Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia Kin Moy on the issue during a hearing of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee — held to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the US’ adoption of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) — he offered a firm reassurance.
Moy said he was aware of deep concerns about the future of Taiwan’s F-16 upgrade program.
He said US Air Force funding would continue through this year and that the end of such funding next year would “not have significant impact” on the Taiwan program.
The US was committed to Taiwan’s F-16 refit, he said.
It was the first time that the administration of US President Barack Obama has publicly responded to questions about the future of Taiwan’s F-16s.
“I am concerned about the decision of the US Air Force not to fund the so-called ‘CAPES’ program in next year’s budget that would have upgraded the avionics system of F-16 fighter jets, including Taiwan’s F-16s,” the committee’s Eliot Engel said.
“The Taiwan Ministry of Defense now faces a tough decision on how to move forward with the upgrade of its fighters at a reasonable cost — an upgrade that it desperately needs,” Engel said.
The US needed to maintain a “robust pace” of arms sales to Taiwan, Representative Gerald Connolly said.
He reminded the committee that the last notification of a major sale was in September 2011, when the administration agreed to upgrade Taiwan’s 145 F-16A/Bs at a cost of US$5.3 billion.
“The lack of a major notification since then is troubling,” Connolly said.
Engel said the US Air Force decision not to proceed with F-16 refits “made no sense.”
“When it comes to Taiwan there is a sort of undercurrent that we feel. We bend over backwards not to upset the sensitivities of the Beijing regime,” he said, adding that the decision not to refit the US F-16s did not seem to have any policy purpose other than to placate Beijing.
Moy said that he understood the concerns and would relay them to the US Air Force.
He said he wanted to emphasize that improvements in the US’ bilateral relationship with China did not come at Taiwan’s expense.
“It’s absolutely not at the expense of our strong relationship with Taiwan,” he said.
Committee chairman Ed Royce said that Taiwan needed continuous US support in order to maintain a credible deterrence.
“I reluctantly submit that we are not doing enough to meet the spirit of the TRA — we need to do more,” Royce said.
Congress members from both parties strongly supported Taiwan’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement.
“By working to include Taiwan in a high-quality, multilateral trade agreement, the US would be helping to preserve Taiwan’s ability to do business internationally,” Royce said.
“I strongly urge the administration to support Taiwan’s inclusion in the TPP,” he said.
Moy said Washington was considering Taiwan’s interest in restarting exploratory talks for a bilateral investment agreement and welcomed Taiwan’s interest in the TPP.