The administration of US President Barack Obama began the long process of briefing the US Congress on Friday about a new arms sales package for Taiwan that does not include desperately needed F-16C/Ds, sources said.
It is not clear exactly what is included — one source said it amounted to US$4.2 billion worth of materiel — but almost certainly does contain upgrades for the existing fleet of aging F-16A/Bs.
No official announcement has been made, but the full arms package is likely to become public next week when the White House formally sends it to Capitol Hill.
According to several well--informed sources, the news is not altogether bad.
“The decision not to sell the C/Ds is political and not -strategic, therefore it can be impacted if politics are brought to bear,” US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers told the Taipei Times.
There has already been a major bipartisan push from members of both the US House of Representatives and US Senate to sell the advanced F-16s to Taipei and according to insiders that push will be further intensified this fall.
While it is extremely difficult to forecast the outcome, there is some optimism that the C/D sale could still go through.
Republican Senator John Cornyn said on Friday that if the reports that Obama had decided not to sell the F-16C/Ds to Taiwan were true, they amounted to “capitulation to Communist China by the Obama administration.”
“It is a sad day in American foreign policy and it represents a slap in the face to a strong ally and long-time friend. This sale would have been a win-win, bolstering the national security of two democratic nations and supporting jobs for an American workforce that desperately needs them,” he said.
Just a few day ago, Cornyn and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez introduced legislation that would force Obama to sell the fighters.
“As analysts in the US have said time and again, a decision on F-16A/Bs doesn’t rule out the chance that C/Ds could be sold later,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “And given that support in both the House and Senate has swelled in recent months, it seems the fat lady has not yet sung on the newer jets.”
The issue is being handled with great care and sensitivity by the administration.
Questioned about reports that Obama had decided not to sell the F-16C/Ds to Taiwan, US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said: “We cannot brief on foreign military sales until Congress has been formally notified, so I’m not in a position to discuss that beyond saying that any actions that we take are in line with the Taiwan Relations Act, and are focused on meeting the defense needs of the Taiwanese. But at this point, we cannot speak to that until formal notification of Congress takes place.”
That answer had been coordinated with the US Department of State because when its spokesperson Mark Toner was asked about the arms sales he replied: “The US government doesn’t comment on any possible foreign military sales unless and until formal congressional notification has taken place, but, you know, US arms sales in general to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act and they are of course based on our assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned that Washington should “avoid any unnecessary disturbance and damage to bilateral ties” and an official newspaper in Beijing said that “madmen” on Capitol Hill were pushing the F-16 sales and in doing so could pay a “disastrous price.”
The Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) said that Taiwanese-Americans were deeply disappointed at the reports that Obama had decided not to sell the F-16C/Ds.
“It is regrettable that the Obama administration is letting the PRC set the terms for US relations with a democratic Taiwan,” FAPA president Bob Yang (楊英育) said.
“President Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)] has gone through the motions of requesting the new F-16C/Ds, but has not been serious about Taiwan’s defense, allowing the defense budget to wither and Taiwan’s capabilities to deteriorate,” he said.
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