Sep 13, 2011

Taiwan: Upgrades Show Close US Relations as Beijing Threat Remains

Despite support from American lawmakers, President Obama is expected to forgo the sale of new F-16s to the island nation.  Experts predict that instead Obama will provide upgrades for F-16s already in Taiwan’s possession. In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act signed in 1979, the United States is required to provide defensive arms to the nation. 

Below is an article published by Taiwan News:

A close ally of Taiwan's president said Monday [12 September 2011]he expects the U.S. will agree only to upgrade the island's existing fleet of F-16s fighter jets and not sell it new ones.

Visiting deputy speaker of Taiwan's legislature Tseng Yung-Chuan told The Associated Press that Taiwan has been grateful for American support for decades, but a decision against providing F-16 C/D planes would "not be satisfactory."

Two U.S. senators who share that view introduced legislation Monday [12 September 2011] demanding President Barack Obama to authorize sales of at least 66 of the F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has improved ties with communist China, signing a historic trade pact last year. His political opponents charge he has moved too fast and subordinated the self-governing island's interests to those of Beijing.

By supplying the planes, the U.S. would anger Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory, and would set back Washington's efforts to improve its own relations with the mainland. The State Department has said the U.S. will make its decision by Oct. 1 [2011].

Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is legally required to provide Taiwan with arms for its self-defense.

While Tseng said he was not aware that a formal decision on the planes had been conveyed to Taiwan, he said through an interpreter: "Based upon the current situation it seems that the U.S. is only going to upgrade the F-16 A/B air fighters. Speaking for the legislature, this is not satisfactory."

"These weapons are not going to be used for war. It's purely based on the purpose of national defense," he said.

Taiwan first sought the F-16 C/D planes in 2006 _ intended to replace its aging fleet of F-5 planes it now uses principally for training. Its current fleet of 145 F-16 A/Bs, the main fighter planes now in its armory, was supplied by the U.S. in the late 1990s. Both the sales of new planes and the upgrades would be worth billions of dollars.

Tseng is leading a delegation from Taiwan's ruling party that is due to meet with U.S. officials and lawmakers. They are also rallying support for Ma among the substantial Taiwanese population in the United States ahead of his 2012 re-election bid. The main opposition presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, is also visiting Washington this week.

There is strong support for the F-16 sales among both parties in the U.S. Congress and annoyance over the administration's apparent reluctance to consult with lawmakers on the issue.

The bill introduced by Republican Sen. John Cornyn and co-sponsored by Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez effectively challenges the president's authority to control foreign arms sales.

It is unlikely to pass in its current form but it cranks up political pressure on Obama. Also, it could later be included as an amendment to legislation the administration would be intent on passing, such as authorization of various defense spending.

Cornyn, who represents Texas, home of the Lockheed Martin factory that would make the C/D planes, contended that the administration was reluctant to sell the planes as it did not want to irritate China, a main foreign holder of U.S. debt.

"The Chinese government has been bellicose in its responses and threats. I don't think the United States should be intimidated by the Chinese or anyone else, particularly when it comes to national security and commitments to our friends and allies," Cornyn told AP.

Last week, the top diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, said the U.S. has been pleased by positive developments in relations between China and Taiwan in the past few years. He said the U.S. still supported the act and remained committed to Taiwan's defense.

The last time Obama authorized a major sale of arms to Taiwan in early 2010, China cut military ties with the U.S. for several months. Washington is Taiwan's only major weapons supplier.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. China still claims democratic Taiwan as its own and threatens to attack if it makes its de facto independence permanent. Despite improved relations across the 100-mile (160-kilometer) Taiwan Strait, analysts say China still has hundreds of ballistic missiles targeting the island.