Taiwan has been sending “mixed signals” to Washington on whether it really wants to buy F-16C/D jets, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Representative to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said on Monday.
Orders for the advanced fighters have been pending for years, but the administration of US President Barack Obama continues to withhold permission for the sale.
Addressing the press on the sidelines of the annual US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, Wu said that he had learned that Washington seems to believe that Taipei is blowing hot and cold on the proposed sale.
Some US officials involved in the potential sale “get the feeling” when they visit Taiwan that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) does not want to buy the jets, he said.
“The Taiwanese government is giving the impression that it is reluctant to buy them,” Wu said.
He stressed that the DPP believes the gap in the nation’s air defense is widening, with China’s deployment of fifth-generation fighters and increasingly deadly missiles.
“Taiwan has a tremendous need to get the next generation of jet fighters,” the DPP official said.
Wu said the main thing he had learned at the conference, which was to end yesterday, was that many US experts on Taiwan believe that Washington is not paying enough attention to the country, but also that Taiwan is not paying enough attention to its own defense.
In a keynote address to the conference, Wu said the question of whether Taiwan under Ma would drift further away from the US’ security arrangements in East Asia remained unanswered. Claiming that the Taiwanese military has deteriorated since the DPP lost power, Wu said that the Chinese military threat across the Taiwan Strait was intensifying.
“New weapon systems have been tested or deployed by China that can be used in a war with Taiwan,” he said. “Neither our defense budget, nor our military preparedness is enough to deal with the looming threat. Taiwan needs drastic policy and actions soon.”
He said that a retired senior air force official had told the DPP that by 2020, China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force would have about 100 fifth-generation fighters, including J-20s, J-21s and Su-35s, in service, while Taiwan was still struggling to advance beyond the current generation.
A quite different picture was painted at the conference by Vice Minister of Armaments General Yen De-fa (嚴德發) in a separate keynote address.
“The Republic of China [ROC] will never give up its military buildup even when the cross-strait tension is gradually relieved,” Yen said. “We have learned from history that only the strong control and the weak can only be controlled.”
The ROC government would never stop building up sufficient defense forces, while simultaneously promoting cross-strait relations, which had moved into a systematic negotiation phase, he added.
China has become “increasingly aggressive” in its objections to US-Taiwan arms sales, the general said, urging the US to “fulfill the commitments” of providing required defensive weapons such as advanced fighter jets and diesel-powered submarines.
“With these weapons, we would be able to build up deterrent and peacekeeping capabilities,” he said.
Yen also called for increased cooperation between US and Taiwanese defense industries.
“The US and the ROC have common security interests and democratic values,” he said. “Our countries have fought side by side for more than half-a-century and this close bond will never be abandoned.”