Thu, Apr 07, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Support growing for F-16 sale

LANGUISHING:While no decision is expected until after a visit to the US by China’s army chief, supporters say the F-16 sale is necessary because the US is overstretched

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

A virtual gale of support is blowing through Washington this week to boost Taiwan’s request to buy F-16C/D aircraft.

However, despite the pressure, there is no indication that US President Barack Obama’s administration would sell the fighter aircraft anytime soon.

White House insiders said not to expect any decisions until well after a visit next month by People’s Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde (陳炳德).

The visit is aimed at strengthening high-level defense contacts and military ties between Washington and Beijing.

Pentagon sources said that nothing was more likely to undermine such ties and lead to another suspension of contacts than new arms sales to Taiwan.

Obama is known to have closer military ties with China near the top of his foreign policy agenda.

Nevertheless, Republican Senator Richard Lugar, a member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this month urging the administration to proceed with the F-16 sale.

“Taiwan has legitimate defense needs and its existing capabilities are decaying,” he said.

Unless Obama approves the sale soon, Lugar said, Taiwan will have “no credible air-to-air capability” when it retires its existing fighter jets in the next decade.

The US would have to decide this year to approve the F-16 sale to produce the jets in time for delivery by 2015.

Clinton has yet to reply to Lugar’s letter.

Voicing his support for the the fighter jet’s sale, US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said: “In the coming several years, the pressure on Taiwan to engage with China — not only on economic issues, but with political and military talks as well — will quickly rise.”

“If Taiwan lacks a credible defense and China calculates that the US lacks resolve, the possibilities for miscalculations soar and tensions in the [Taiwan] Strait will rise dramatically,” he said.

“While arms sales may cause short-term difficulties in bilateral relations with China, they have always returned again to a solid baseline. If America succumbs to the short-term expediency of not providing Taiwan with much needed and meaningful capabilities, the chance of Chinese adventurism rises,” Hammond-Chambers said.

“Taiwan’s request for the sale of some 150 additional F-16C/Ds has been languishing unanswered somewhere in the halls of the State Department,” Daniel Goure, a former US Department of Defense official now with the Lexington Institute, wrote in a paper on the subject published this week.

“At a time when the US is still engaged in two wars and finding it difficult not to become engaged in other regional conflicts and crises, it makes eminent sense to do whatever it can to build the ability of friends and allies, our partners in regional security, to defend themselves better,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ed Ross, former principal director for operations at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said that Taiwan must “improve its military capabilities and negotiate from a position of strength to deter Chinese aggression and coercion.”

“The US must continue to push the envelope on arms sales to Taiwan, providing Taiwan what it truly needs to maintain a sufficient defense capability, not what it believes Beijing will tolerate,” he wrote in an opinion piece in Defense News.

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