Senators pressure Obama on jet sale

MEETING A MORAL OBLIGATION::The co-chairs of the Senate Taiwan Caucus issued a statement saying ‘a decision that does not include new airplanes is unacceptable’

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - Page 3

Two powerful US senators said that any decision by the White House not to sell advanced F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan would be “unacceptable.”

Reacting to unconfirmed reports from Taipei that the F-16C/Ds will not be included in a new arms sale package, the senators said that such a decision would fail to address Taiwan’s need for new combat aircraft to meet the growing threat from China.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator James Inhofe — co-chairs of the US Senate’s Taiwan Caucus — issued a joint statement on Thursday saying that Taiwan was losing its qualitative advantage in defensive arms.

“A decision that does not include new airplanes is unacceptable,” the statement read.

The Defense News reported last week from Taipei that a Pentagon team had informed Taiwan that while US President Barack Obama had decided to upgrade its older F-16A/B aircraft, he would not sell the much-needed F-16C/Ds.

Since then, the White House, the Pentagon and the US State Department have all insisted that no decision has yet been made. A decision has been promised before Oct. 1.

The senators said China was in the process of deploying next--generation Chinese and Russian manufactured ships, fighter aircraft and submarines.

“Limiting US assistance only to upgrades of Taiwan’s existing

F-16A/B fighters would exacerbate both near and long term air-to-air challenges since a substantial number of Taiwan’s deployed F-16A/Bs would have to be removed from service in order to undergo upgrades,” they said.

“An announcement by the Obama administration that it is willing to proceed with the upgrade of Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs would not be a new commitment,” Menendez said. “Providing the military resources Taiwan needs is in the vital security interest of Taiwan, the national security interest of the US and is compelled by the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said.

Menendez said that in addition to enhancing Taiwan’s security, the sale of 66 F-16C/Ds would infuse billions of dollars into the US economy and sustain and generate thousands of well-paying US manufacturing jobs.

Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, also said that Taiwan was an important ally.

“As China upgrades its air strike capability, it is important that Taiwan be allowed to maintain a strong defense structure,” he said. “The Obama administration should not kowtow to Chinese wishes that would restrict the sale of the F-16s, and we should move forward with supplying the F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan. It is in the best national security interest of the US and Taiwan and fulfills our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.”

There can now be no doubt that if Obama does refuse to sell the advanced fighters to Taiwan, Congress will be furious and he will be accused of appeasing China.

In addition, Obama will come in for heavy criticism from both the US House of Representatives and the Senate and there will be enormous pressure for him to backtrack on the policy.