Hope of F-16C/Ds dashed by US Senate

SENATE SPLIT::A trade bill amendment that would have forced the US’ hand on the arms sale sparked a duel between Republican John Cornyn and Democrat John Kerry

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sat, Sep 24, 2011 - Page 1

An amendment to a trade bill that would have forced US President Barack Obama to sell 66 F-16C/D jets to Taiwan failed to pass the Senate on Thursday night, with the vote split right down the middle.

Crossing party lines, senators voted 48 to 48 on the amendment submitted by Texas Republican John Cornyn, while 60 votes were needed to pass the amendment.

Political analysts said later that even though the vote failed, the result still demonstrated that Taiwan retains major support in the Senate.

“The vote was not unexpected, but it was disappointing,” said Coen Blaauw, an executive with the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA).

“We at FAPA will keep pushing,” he said. “Both Houses of Congress have sent strong signals to the White House that they want to sell the F-16C/Ds to Taiwan. These fighters are desperately needed.”

Debate on the amendment quickly turned into a duel between Cornyn, in favor, and Democratic Senator John Kerry, who was against.

Kerry said that the proposed upgrade of Taiwan’s existing fleet of F-16A/B jets had been welcomed by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and that it would be unprecedented to compel the White House to sell a particular weapons system in the context of “a delicate and complicated trilateral relationship.”

Cornyn said that the US constitution grants Congress the right to regulate commerce with foreign nations and stressed that the F-16C/D sale would create large numbers of much-needed jobs in the US.

Kerry said it would be wrong to turn a foreign policy issue into a jobs program and insisted that he had “proudly voted for Taiwan” throughout his 26-year political career.

Indeed, he said, he was continuing to vote for Taiwan by opposing the current amendment.

Cornyn’s amendment ordering Obama to sell the new F-16s was attached to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Bill, which has White House support and which furthers a number of new free-trade agreements.

Kerry said Obama was “unalterably opposed” to the amendment.

“Here we are working hard under a very careful script to move free-trade agreements that mean jobs for America,” Kerry said. “If we pass this amendment, we lose that opportunity, it’s that simple, but this is a trade-off measured against the lack of any need for -urgency as a matter of defense policy and foreign policy.”

“Why, for the first time, without that showing of urgency — particularly given the president of Taiwan’s own statements — compel a president to do something he doesn’t want to do in the context of the relationship both with China and Taiwan,” he asked.

Cornyn replied: “The upgrade on 145 aircraft does nothing to substitute for the retiring of the French Mirage aircraft and the F-5s, given the huge disparity in air power between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.”

“This is about American prestige, keeping our promises and not letting the bullies of the world, including China, intimidate the United State of America. We must keep our solemn commitments to our allies,” Cornyn said.

“The sale of weapons, measured against policy decisions in a set of relationships that are critical to a balance of power, and to threat and to danger, has never been translated into a jobs program,” Kerry said. “This is a policy issue. The policy question is whether or not the president of Taiwan speaks for Taiwan or the Senator for Texas speaks for Taiwan. The policy issue is whether or not we are adequately meeting the needs of the Taiwan Relations Act and meeting the foreign policy priorities of the administration.”