Obama could face pressure over Taiwan air force

PLANE TALKING::A congressional resolution says the US president should address Taiwan’s shortfall in fighter planes through the sale of F-16C/Ds or similar aircraft

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - Page 1

US President Barack Obama may soon come under direct congressional pressure to draw up a plan ensuring that Taiwan’s air force can “contribute appropriately” to the defense of the nation.

The House of Representatives and Senate are considering the measure as part of the US defense budget for fiscal 2013, which is expected to pass before the Christmas break.

A “sense of Congress” resolution that the conference committee is recommending to each house for passage — as part of the National Defense Authorization Act — orders the secretaries of defense and state to complete the plan by April 15.

In an unclassified assessment, the Defense Intelligence Agency has said that although Taiwan has almost 400 combat aircraft, far fewer are operationally capable and its F-5 fighters have reached the end of their operational service life.

The conference committee says Taiwan is experiencing a growing shortfall in fighter aircraft, even with the F-16A/B uprades agreed upon last year.

“Despite this shortfall, however, the conferees are not aware of any plan by the administration to address Taiwan’s fighter aircraft needs, whether through the sale of F-16C/Ds or otherwise,” the resolution says.

It directs the secretaries of defense and state to prepare a briefing for all relevant congressional committees that “explains the administration’s plan” for equipping Taiwan’s air force.

Taiwan has been trying for years to buy 66 F-16C/D aircraft, but so far, the White House has been unwilling to allow the sale.

Some US analysts argue that the F-16C/Ds do not best meet Taiwan’s defense needs, while others say the sale has not gone through because it would cause a huge rift in US-China relations.

Citing US obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, the sense of Congress resolution says the president should take steps to address Taiwan’s shortfall in fighter aircraft through the sale of F-16C/Ds or “other aircraft of similar capability.”

There is no indication of just what other aircraft Congress may have in mind.

US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said that the congressional resolution was “a good thing” because it raised the profile of the whole issue of US sales of fighter aircraft to Taiwan.

He said that Congress would have to take the lead on the issue and “push” the administration into action.

This will almost certainly happen if, as expected, Obama names US Senator John Kerry to replace US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who has opted not to continue in the job.

Kerry has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2009 and under the seniority system, the chair will be offered to Senator Barbara Boxer, but it is believed that she wants to stay as head of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In that case, the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee will most likely go to Senator Robert Menendez, who co-chairs the Senate Taiwan Caucus.

Menendez is one of Taiwan’s strongest supporters in the Senate and has consistently pushed for Obama to approve the sale of the F-16C/Ds.

As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he would be ideally placed to pressure the administration into action.