Two experts at a Washington conference on “US Rebalancing to Asia” strongly opposed the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan on Friday.
“The last weapon we should sell Taiwan is the F-16,” Boston College political science professor Robert Ross said.
Christopher Clarke, a retired analyst at the China Division of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence, agreed emphatically.
It was one of the few issues at the Carnegie Endowment conference on which the men saw eye to eye.
Ross said the US Air Force did not want to operate in the Taiwan Strait.
“If we don’t want to put our own F-16s in the Taiwan Strait, what makes us think that the F-16 would be good for Taiwan’s security?” he asked.
Taiwan has been trying for years to buy 66 F-16C/Ds to replace the aging fighters in its air force.
US President Barack Obama’s administration is stalling over the proposed sale, but a White House decision may come early next year.
“People who think seriously about Taiwan’s defense, taking into account the theater it operates in, and the resources available, and the technology, have a long list of things that America should do to help Taiwan, but it does not include F-16s and it does not include Patriot missiles,” Ross said.
He said the list included “a whole different range of technologies” that would make Taiwan “a very unattractive target for the mainland.”
Ironically, the weapons systems that should be sold to Taiwan instead of F-16C/Ds would do a lot less to destabilize cross-strait relations and US-China relations, Ross said.
He did not identify the weapons systems he had in mind.
“Our first question ought to be: ‘What is in the US national interest?’ and our second question ought to be: ‘What is in the interest of preventing a Taiwan Strait war?’” Clarke said.
“I don’t think the sale of F-16s would serve either of those purposes,” he said.
Clarke said there were “lots of other things” the US could do to improve Taiwan’s security.
“Fueling an arms race in Taiwan and unnecessarily poking the Chinese in the eye with what are essentially big fat targets for the PLA Air Force is probably not the way to go,” he said, adding, however, that domestic pressure in the US may be sufficient to push through the F-16C/D sale anyway.
When reached for comments on remarks, senior fellow in Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center Richard Fisher said: “Simply denying new F-16s to Taiwan without offering to sell a better basis upon which to assure deterrence of Chinese attack is absurd, it’s a non-policy.”
Fisher said that Taiwan had a direct requirement for the 66 F-16s to compensate for the near-term retirement of its Mirage fighters.
“Washington could sell Taiwan hundreds of Lockheed Martin ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles, all armed with thousands of sensor-fused munitions that would surely provide that stronger basis for deterrence, all for the price of a small number of F-16s, but I rather doubt that is what Robert Ross had in mind,” Fisher said.
“Preserving the example of a living democracy on Taiwan is the most effective way America can demonstrate to the people of China that there is an alternative to a Communist dictatorship that suppresses them and now threatens all democracies,” Fisher said. “Aiding in Taiwan’s defense is the best way that America can demonstrate to the people of Taiwan that they are not alone, that their democratic choice is valid and worth defending,” he added.