President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday reiterated his request that the US agree to an arms deal that includes advanced F-16C/D fighters.
“We still hope that the US will agree with our purchase of the fighters, as we need to replace our old fighters to maintain our self-defense ability,” Ma said at the Presidential Office when meeting with American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt.
The Taiwanese government has consistently pushed the US to supply it with 66 advanced F-16C/D fighters, an upgrade of its current inventory of F-16A/B fighters. The jets were not included as part of a US$6.4 billion arms sale announced by US President Barack Obama in January and China has warned against any sales of new F-16s to Taiwan.
Burghardt, who arrived in Taipei on Wednesday for a six-day visit, said US arms sales to Taiwan were guaranteed under the Taiwan Relations Act, but added that the US government has yet to reach a final decision on Taiwan’s request to buy the F-16C/D fighters.
Ma said Taiwan would continue to purchase weapons from the US, while trying to lower tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
The two also discussed the Ma administration’s plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, with Ma reiterating that the ECFA was scheduled to be signed by the end of this month, and that his government would send the pact to the legislature for approval.
Later yesterday, in a roundtable discussion with local media, Burghardt, in response to a question on the chances of Taiwan signing free-trade agreements (FTA) with other countries after signing an ECFA, said: “[The] US position has been as clear as anybody that all WTO members have the rights and power to sign trade agreements with other WTO members. No need for prior ECFA agreement. No need for permission from China. WTO members can sign agreements with other WTO members, very simple.”
Regarding the possibility of a US-Taiwan FTA, Burghardt said he did not see an ECFA with China as an important factor in a US decision to sign an FTA with Taiwan, but added that “the US has two other issues that we need to deal with.”
He said “there is not much movement in Washington to negotiate an FTA” and “there is no support in the US executive branch and Congress for the kind of weak and partial agreement popular in Asia.”
On the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement between the US and Taiwan, which has been suspended since July 2007, Burghardt said it “would be desirable to see that happen sometime before the end of this year,” but he didn’t give a date.