Mon, Apr 01, 2019 - Page 1 News List

US sale of F-16s to Taiwan would be ‘political shock’ to China: academic


The US might finally sell Taiwan the warplanes it has sought for more than a decade to defend against China. Their arrival would deal more of a political shock than a military blow to Beijing.

US officials have given tacit approval to Taipei’s request to buy more than 60 Lockheed Martin F-16s, setting the stage for the first such deal since 1992, people familiar with the matter said.

While a few dozen fighter jets would hardly tip the military balance against the increasing powerful Chinese military, it would signal a new willingness from the US to back the democratically run nation.

“For Beijing, it would be a huge shock, but it would be more of a political shock than a military shock. It would be: ‘Oh, the US doesn’t care how we feel.’ It would be more of a symbolic or emotional issue,” said Wu Shang-su (吳尚蘇), a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The potential sale is among several gestures of US support for Taiwan in the past few months, even as US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) near a deal to end their costly trade dispute.

The US also sailed a warship through the Taiwan Strait and accommodated President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) stopover in Hawaii last week, drawing protests from China, which denounced the moves as “extremely dangerous.”

Renewed US interest in Taiwan follows growing calls in Washington for a “whole-of-government” effort to prevent China from surpassing US military and industrial dominance.

Perhaps nowhere has the power shift been felt more than in Taiwan, a nation of 23.6 million people that China aims to eventually control, despite 70 years of divided rule.

China has directed its industrial strength toward huge investments in military hardware over the past two decades, building a world-class navy and filling its coastline with missiles capable of hitting Taiwanese targets. The country spent 23 times more than Taiwan on defense in 2017, up from double in 1997.

New F-16s would not “change the fundamental balance of capabilities across the Strait, nor will it eliminate the threat that China poses to forcibly absorb a democratic Taiwan,” said Scott Harold, an associate director of Rand Corp’s Center for Asia-Pacific Policy.

“Taiwan will continue to need to invest in missiles, electronic warfare, mines and other advanced conventional and asymmetric capabilities designed to deter, and if necessary defeat, any Chinese effort to use coercion to compel unification,” Harold said.

Rand analysts argued in a 2016 report that China’s sophisticated short-range ballistic missiles could “cut every runway at Taiwan’s half-dozen main fighter bases and destroy essentially all” parked aircraft in a conflict.

Any planes that made it into the air could face Chinese pilots flying jets such as the J-20, a fifth-generation stealth fighter considered to be a rival to Lockheed’s advanced F-22s and F-35s.

Still, the F-16 sale would represent a shift by the US, which is obligated to sell “arms of a defensive character” to Taipei under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

US presidents since Bill Clinton have repeatedly rebuffed Taiwan’s requests for new fighter jets and other advanced weapons systems that could provoke Beijing, with former US president Barack Obama agreeing in 2011 to merely upgrade its aging F-16 fleet.

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