Taiwan moving forward on F-16 negotiations: MND

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington, with CNA

Wed, May 02, 2012 - Page 1

Taiwan will continue to negotiate with the US on the sale of F-16C/D aircraft and will carefully mull the possibility of submitting a letter of request (LoR) to acquire them, a Ministry of National Defense official said yesterday.

“[We] will take every factor into consideration and carefully devise a plan in the best interests of our country,” ministry spokesman Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said.

However, there has been no progress in the efforts to procure the aircraft, he said.

Lo’s comments came in response to a statement by US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers that the time was right for Taiwan to again request price and availability data for the F-16C/Ds.

“This is an excellent time for Taiwan to submit a new letter of request,” Hammond-Chambers told reporters following an address to a conference on “Taiwan and Asia-Pacific Economic Integration” held on Monday by George Washington University.

He said a White House letter to Republican Senator John Cornyn released last week clearly stated that the administration of US President Barack Obama recognized that Taiwan needed the new aircraft.

“The Obama administration is telegraphing that it is now open to consider the sale of new fighters,” Hammond-Chambers said.

As a consequence, he added, Taiwan should feel confident enough to submit a letter of request.

“I can simply state that this is absolutely the right time for Taiwan to resubmit an LoR,” he said.

Hammond-Chambers said the White House letter was a “significant step forward.”

For the first time it recognized the gap in air power capabilities between Taiwan and China, and that part of the solution was the sale of new fighters, he said.

“They have never said that before,” he said.

Hammond-Chambers said that over the next few weeks he expected the House of Representatives to “pick up” the Taiwan Air Power Modernization Act proposal already introduced into the Senate by Cornyn.

The proposal is designed to “provide Taiwan with critically needed US-built multi-role fighter aircraft to strengthen its self-defense capability against the increasing military threat from China.”

However, US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor has stressed that the letter to Cornyn is only “consistent with our current policy on Taiwan, which has not changed.”

Vietor said that the council does not comment on future possible sales “unless formal congressional notification has taken place.”

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) had previously told the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) that it could not submit an LoR for price-and-availability data for 66 F-16C/D aircraft because the US State Department and the National Security Council had given orders not to accept it.

In a classic Catch-22 scenario, the US Department of State said Taiwan’s LoR could not be processed because it had not been received.

However, this time, while the letter to Cornyn did not contain a firm promise to sell the fighters, it strongly indicated that some action would be taken, Hammond-Chambers said.

He said that there could also be speedy reaction from the US Congress.

“One of the most important aspects of Congressional support for Taiwan is how broad based it is and bipartisan,” he said. “And that’s true for the sale of the F16s. There is very strong bipartisan support for the sale, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

“The US-Taiwan Business Council believes that if the Taiwan Air Power Modernization Act is given an opportunity to be voted on, it will pass,” he said.

Commenting on the issue, Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of North American Affairs, said the US and Taiwan were both “on the same page.”

“The US fully understands Taiwan’s military air power needs,” Linghu told a press briefing. “When the time is right, we will naturally get a positive response.”

Linghu reiterated that Washington is committed to arms sales to Taiwan under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and “six assurances” of 1982.

In September last year, the US approved a retrofit and training package for Taiwan’s 145 aging F-16A/B aircraft for an estimated cost of US$5.2 billion.

However, Taiwan is still eager to acquire the more advanced fighters to help address the air-power imbalance across the Taiwan Strait.