President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said the plan to acquire F-16C/D aircraft from the US remained unchanged and that improved cross-strait relations would not affect the government’s efforts to maintain the country’s national defense forces.
Ma said his administration would continue to ask the US to expedite the sale of F-16C/Ds and diesel-electric submarines, promising to build a “small, but strong” national defense force to safeguard the nation.
“We will not engage in a competition for military equipment with mainland China. The government will build the military as a small, but strong national defense force,” he said while presiding over an honors and award ceremony for top-level military officials at the Presidential Office.
Ma’s comments followed a news report that the US government had sent a delegation to Taiwan last week to deliver the news that Washington would not proceed with the sale of the 66 F-16C/D aircraft requested by Taipei, but that it would upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of F-16A/Bs.
The Ministry of National Defense has denied the report by Defense News magazine, saying the government did not receive any such message from Washington.
Ma yesterday said the government was continuing with its plan to accumulate military equipment, and at the same time promote peaceful relations across the Strait to prevent any confrontation.
Ma reiterated what he referred to as “three lines of defense” for the nation, including the institutionalization of relations with China to seek reconciliation, improving the nation’s reputation and seeking international support, and strengthening Taiwan’s national defenses via diplomatic and national defense measures.
However, at a separate setting yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said the US’ reported refusal to sell the F-16C/Ds was shocking news.
He singled out Ma as the one bearing “full responsibility for the failure.”
Saying that the former DPP administration had allocated a budget of about NT$16.6 billion (US$574 million) to purchase the F-16C/D fleet in 2007 afte the US had basically agreed to the sale, Tsai said Ma has no one else to blame but himself.
“The Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT], led by Ma, who served as its chairman at the time, blocked the sale 69 times in the Legislative Yuan as Taiwan missed the best time for the procurement,” Tsai said.
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said the Ma administration knew that the US would eventually block the sale, but it has been using a stalling tactic by telling people that negotiations were still ongoing.
KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), on the other hand, said he believed no decision on the F-16C/Ds would be made until US Vice President Joe Biden returned to the US from his three-nation trip in Asia.
Lin also rebutted DPP lawmakers’ charges that the KMT was to be blamed for the opportunities lost to buy F-16C/Ds because of its opposition to the budget earmarked for the aircraft.
The KMT did not boycott the US$475 million and US$592 million written in the budget by the DPP administration in 2007 and 2008 respectively for the F-16C/Ds, Lin said.
“The money was returned to the Treasury at the end of those fiscal years because the request to buy the F-16C/Ds had yet to be approved by the US,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRIS WANG AND SHIH HSIU-CHUAN
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