A letter signed by 181 members of the US Congress was sent to the White House on Monday urging US President Barack Obama to sell advanced F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan.
Obama has promised to make a decision on the sale by Oct. 1 and there is growing concern that he is being influenced by China’s strong opposition.
The letter came as a hearing on Taiwan policy — before the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs — was suddenly canceled when Congress decided to adjourn for summer recess following a controversial vote to raise the federal debt limit.
That hearing, at which US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Derek Mitchell are due to testify, is now likely to be held in the middle of next month.
Both Campbell and Mitchell are expected to face sharp criticism over the way the Obama administration appears to have consulted Beijing about the requested arms sale.
Under former US president Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Six Assurances,” the US pledged not to consult China about arms sales decisions.
“In order to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, we believe it is critical for the US to sell the government of Taiwan all the F-16C/D [aircraft] it requires,” the congressional letter to Obama said. “We respectfully request that your administration move quickly to announce its support for such a sale and submit the required Congressional Notification for a sale as soon as possible.”
The letter said that China has more than 1,400 missiles aimed at Taiwan and continues to add to this total, deploying next--generation technology.
“Military experts both in Taiwan and in the US have raised alarms that Taiwan is losing its qualitative advantage in defensive arms that have long served as a primary military deterrent,” the letter said.
Within the next decade, the letter added, Taiwan will retire 70 percent of its jet fighter force and without new fighter aircraft and upgrades to its existing fleet of F-16s, Taiwan’s situation could become “quite precarious.”
The members of Congress said they were “deeply concerned” that delays in the decision on the sale of F-16s could result in a closure of the F-16 assembly line, making future deliveries impossible.
“In addition to enhancing Taiwan’s security, approval of the sale would support thousands of American jobs — especially well-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector,” the letter added.
While there can now be no doubt of major congressional support for the F-16 sale, that support may not have a great impact on Obama.
He is more likely to be influenced by advice from his National Security Council and the US Department of State.
A blog published on the Wall Street Journal Web site on Monday reported that “influential figures” had publicly called for the US to pull away from Taiwan to foster “increasingly key relations” with China.
It said that military exchanges between the US and China had been cut off by Beijing in the past when the US sold weapons to Taiwan.
“Analysts say the planes are vital for Taiwan as it seeks to replenish its aging fleet of fighters. But China seems to be drawing a line in the sand, with analysts saying Beijing would be more willing to accept a long-delayed upgrade to Taiwan’s older F-16A/Bs than sales of new F-16C/Ds,” the blog said. “Due to the timing of the October 1 decision, which falls between two high-level US-China diplomatic exchanges and on China’s National Day, most do not think the US will accept Taiwan’s request for the new planes.”