Close to half the members of the US Senate have signed a letter to US President Barack Obama urging him to sell F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan.
Obama has been putting off a decision on Taipei’s request to buy 66 of the advanced fighters for more than a year now and the letter is thought likely to push the issue onto the front burner.
Washington sources said the US Department of State was against the sale because it risked badly damaging already fragile relations with China, while the US Department of Defense is in favor because Taiwan’s military is in dire need of a boost.
US Senator Robert Menendez unveiled the letter at a congressional hearing on Thursday on US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s (駱家輝) nomination as US ambassador to China.
In all, 45 of the 100 senators signed the letter in a bipartisan show of force.
Menendez said he was “extremely concerned” that China’s military buildup would leave Taiwan “in a position that is, I think, indefensible at the end of the day.”
“And to me that will only exacerbate the situation,” he said.
Menendez asked Locke to support the sale of the F-16s and said it was “very rare” for so many senators across party lines to sign such a letter.
Locke said that no decision had been made on the sale, but that the US “stands with Taiwan to ensure that it can defend itself and that its self-defense capabilities are never eroded.”
The letter, organized by Menendez and Senator James Inhofe, was sent directly to Obama at the White House.
“We are writing to express serious concern about the military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait. To maintain peace and stability in the Strait, it is critical that your administration accept Taiwan’s Letter of Request and move quickly to notify Congress of the sale of the 66 F-16C/D aircraft that Taiwan needs in order to modernize its air force,” it says. “Taiwan desperately needs new tactical fighter aircraft.”
“We are deeply concerned that further delay of the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in closure of the F-16 production line, and urge you to expedite this export process before the line closes. Without new fighter aircraft and upgrades to its existing fleet of F-16s, Taiwan will be dangerously exposed to Chinese military threats, aggression and provocation, which pose significant national security implications for the US,” the letter says.
The letter says Taiwanese pilots flying Taiwanese fighter aircraft manufactured in the US represented no offensive threat to China.
US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond--Chambers said: “The Obama administration has just hosted PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Chief of [General] Staff Chen Bingde (陳炳德), who made several unsubstantiated claims concerning Taiwan during his visit — including that some on Capitol Hill are considering reviewing the need for the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).”
Hammond-Chambers said the letter clearly showed the US Congress remained firmly in support of the TRA and of its requirement to provide Taiwan with arms for its own self-defense.
“China and its leaders are making a concerted effort to redefine and downgrade the security relationship between the US and Taiwan as established in the TRA,” he said.
“This effort is taking the form of direct statements such as those by General Chen and it is being bolstered by sympathetic voices in America’s retired military community and in US academia,” -Hammond-Chambers said.
“Yet by elevating the issue, China has now made this issue about America’s commitment to Northeast Asian security and about US willingness to make the difficult decisions — in the face of Chinese opposition — that promote our interests as well as those of our friends and allies,” he said.
Along with Menendez and Inhofe, other prominent signatories included Jim Webb, Joseph Lieberman, John D Rockefeller IV and John McCain.