It is going to take “Herculean” efforts to persuade US President Barack Obama and his closest advisers to sell F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan, US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said on Wednesday.
He said he believed the US administration would agree to “retrofit” Taiwan’s fleet of 145 F16s, but sounded very doubtful about the future sale of new fighters.
Taipei has asked to buy 66 new F16s and the request is “under consideration” by the White House.
Recently published Pentagon studies show that the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait has tilted solidly in China’s favor and that Taiwan’s air force is in desperate need of new fighters.
Addressing a forum on “China Policy Challenges for the New Congress” on Capitol Hill, Hammond-Chambers said that the Obama administration seemed to be increasingly “risk adverse” when it came to selling arms to Taiwan.
Given Beijing’s forceful opposition to the sale of F16s to Taiwan, he said it was going to be particularly difficult to secure the sale.
Hammond-Chambers told the forum, organized by the International Assessment and Strategy Center, that the military threat from China was the single most important dynamic of those issues that define what it means to be Taiwanese.
He said there was a deep-rooted and ever-increasing suspicion about China’s intentions for Taiwan.
Hammond-Chambers said he could not remember a period in which there had been less ambition for the bilateral relationship.
“There is little ambition to take advantage of reconciliation across the Strait or to seize this as an opportunity to improve our relationship. Taipei and Washington seem distracted with their relationship with Beijing and that is unfortunate,” he said.
Senior US officials were spending the bulk of their time reassuring allies in East Asia and looking for ways to “beef up” security relationships with those allies, he said.
However, he did not believe this would spill over into the US’ relationship with Taiwan.
“I don’t see the commensurate adjustment in the US-Taiwan security relationship that we are seeing with [South] Korea, Japan, Australia and others,” he said.
US Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, said China was governed by a regime of “tyrants and gangsters.”
He said that Taiwan had elected a government that believed in “acquiescing” and taking a “soft approach” to Beijing.
Rohrabacher said Taiwan was “petting” the Chinese dragon even though it knew the dragon was full of teeth and fire and blood.
North Korea was China’s “puppet and lap dog,” he said, adding that China was using the North to try to intimidate Japan.
“They are trying to make the people of Japan cower in the same way that the people of Taiwan have decided to cower, but they are not going to succeed,” he said. “The Japanese people are tough and courageous.”