Sun, Sep 11, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Sell Taiwan F-16s: US representative

‘COUNTERVAILING FORCE’:Adam Smith says that the US needs to strike a balance between friendliness to China and maintaining a credible threat to deter aggression

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

US Representative Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has come out in favor of selling advanced F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan.

“We certainly need to have a credible threat to make sure that China does not feel that it can take military action against Taiwan,” he said on Friday following a speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We have made a limited number of arms sales to Taiwan and I believe that it is important that we continue to do that. On the specific question of the F-16s, my personal position is that I think it is a sale we should make,” he said. “Others disagree with that, and China will not be happy.”

Smith joins a growing chorus of influential politicians and academics now calling for the sale to go ahead.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to announce his decision on the sale by the end of this month and there has been widespread speculation that he will bow to pressure from Beijing and refuse to sell the new fighters, opting instead to refit and update Taiwan’s aging F-16 fleet.

Smith said the sale of new fighters would help to keep a balance between “very difficult positions.”

“It is the right thing to do, but it will be difficult going forward,” he said.

It was also essential, he said, to make sure that China was aware of the importance of stability in the region and that “any hostile action towards Taiwan would completely destroy that stability.”

During his 30-minute speech — titled “America’s Commitment to Asia” — Smith said that when he was in Asia in 2002, there was considerable concern about the relationship between Taiwan and China.

However, since then, he said, “both nations” have made very positive steps.

“The economic and trade relationship between the two has improved dramatically. They are building that relationship and that is the key,” he said. “Do not force the issue or try to resolve what Taiwan’s long-term future is going to be and how it is going to relate to China. Build up the ties, make the connections, so that it is more likely that the future is resolved peacefully.”

“I believe that to be in China’s best interest and in Taiwan’s best interest. The United States needs to facilitate it. But we can’t walk away from Taiwan. It is an incredibly important relationship and we need to make sure that everyone in the region knows that it is an important relationship,” he said.

Smith said there was concern at the Pentagon that China could now threaten US forward operating bases and aircraft carrier battle groups.

“It’s an enormous problem,” he said.

“We should treat China like a friend that we want to succeed, but we must also convince every other nation in the region that we are going to be a countervailing force,” he added. “How do you strike that balance?”

He stressed the importance of avoiding a Cold War-style arms race and military competition.

“We are not going to have what we had before. We are not going to have completely unchecked access. In 1996, when there was a problem in the Taiwan Strait, we sent two aircraft carrier battle groups in there and there wasn’t anything China could do about it,” he said. “Now we are worried about what could happen. What happens if they decide that they are going to attack us? It wouldn’t be a wise choice, but sometimes people don’t make wise choices.”

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