In a bid to prod the administration of US President George W. Bush to clear the sale of advanced F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan, the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday was preparing to approve a resolution urging the administration to stop blocking the sale.
The resolution, introduced in the House on Tuesday, is sponsored by both the chairman of the committee, Tom Lantos, and the ranking Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and was expected to be endorsed unanimously by the committee yesterday morning, sending it to the full House for its consideration.
The bill reflects frustration in the US Congress over the State Department's continuing refusal to allow Taiwan to make a formal request for the fighter aircraft, despite the Legislative Yuan's approval of budgets to begin the procurement process and the mandates of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) on defensive arms sales to Taiwan.
Sources said that many members of Congress were angry over the State Department's role in blocking the sale.
They said that senior officials of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) have tried repeatedly to submit a formal request for the F-16 purchase, but that the American Institute in Taiwan's (AIT) Washington office had refused to entertain the request, saying they had been ordered by the State Department not to accept it.
Under the rules of US-Taiwan communications, every communication of this sort must formally go through AIT rather than directly to the US government and it is not clear whether TECRO officials have been permitted to meet face-to-face with US officials to make their case to buy the aircraft.
The US-Taiwan Business Council recently took the administration to task over its stance.
In a commentary article earlier this month, council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers wrote that "although this would seem a straightforward deal, since F-16s are part of Taiwan's existing arsenal and do not constitute a new capability, the US has informed Taiwan that it should not submit a Letter of Request -- the critical first step in the arms sale process -- until further notice, thereby leaving this pressing matter in limbo."
"This is an unprecedented action in any bilateral US security relationship," Hammond-Chambers wrote.
The House resolution is based on the requirements of the TRA, which states that the US must make available to Taiwan arms and services "in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."
It says that the Act gives both the administration and Congress roles in making the determination on arms sales and that such transfers should be "`based solely' upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan."
The bill recalls that Taiwan's defense budget this year commits US$488,000 to begin the procurement process for 66 new F-16C/Ds. But that expenditure would be made only if the US provides purchasing data by Oct. 31 of this year. After that, the money would no longer be available.
It further cites the Executive Yuan's approval last month of a defense budget for next year that includes a US$764,000 line for the second year's budget for the aircraft.
"Notwithstanding the requirements of the Taiwan Relations Act, the Bush administration has not been responsive to Taiwan's clear expression of interest in receiving price and availability data for the F-16C/D fighters," the bill says.
As has been widely reported, the State Department's opposition to the F-16 sale originally stemmed from the Legislative Yuan's failure to approve spending for a broader package of arms sales that Bush offered Taiwan in 2001.
But it later became embroiled in department anger over President Chen Shui-bian's (
The House bill declares that "it shall continue to be the policy of the United States, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, to make available to Taiwan such defense articles and services as may be necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."
It also says that "the United States should determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services `based solely' upon the legitimate defense needs of Taiwan."
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