Pres­sure builds for sale of F-16 jets to Tai­wan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

Congress is step­ping up pres­sure on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to sell more F-16 jet fight­ers to Tai­wan as the is­land’s air de­fenses de­te­ri­o­rate and China’s air power grows.

Sen. John Cornyn, a lead­ing ad­vo­cate for ef­forts to bol­ster Tai­wan’s de­fenses as well as to keep a U.S. pro­duc­tion line open for new F-16s, said June 7 that the shift­ing mil­i­tary bal­ance across the 100-mile-wide Tai­wan Strait is in­creas­ing the dan­ger of a con­flict that could in­volve the United States.

“While the ad­min­is­tra­tion dithers on Tai­wan’s re­quest for F16s, ev­i­dence con­tin­ues to mount that what Tai­wan des­per­ately needs to re­store the cross-strait bal­ance and re­gain the abil­ity to de­fend its own airspace is new fighter air­craft to bol­ster an air force that is bor­der­line ob­so­lete,” the Texas Repub­li­can and Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­ber said in the Se­nate.

“The reper­cus­sions of a ris­ing and po­ten­tially ag­gres­sive China, able to dom­i­nate the airspace over Tai­wan, de­mands the at­ten­tion of our mil­i­tary plan­ners, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Congress be­cause it opens the door for China to use force against Tai­wan.”

In the House, Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, also sup­ports the sale of 66 new F-16C/D model jets to Tai­wan be­cause the is­land’s air forces are de­clin­ing.

“We have an obli­ga­tion un­der the Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act, and we should honor it. But let’s be re­al­is­tic: The sale of these air­craft is good for the U.S. in­dus­trial base as well,” Mr. McKeon said.

Out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates sidestepped a re­porter’s ques­tion two weeks ago on whether he sup­ports sell­ing new F-16s to Tai­wan. Mr. Gates, on his way to an Asian de­fense con­fer­ence, said the Ge­orge W. Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions tried to abide by the 1979 Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act. But he also said U.S. law was bal­anced by ef­forts to ad­dress “Chinese sen­si­tiv­i­ties.” Bei­jing op­poses arms sales to the in­de­pen­dent is­land nation that China re­gards as its ter­ri­tory.

Asked specif­i­cally about sales of new F-16s, Mr. Gates, who leaves the Pen­tagon on June 30, said, “I don’t have a view on that at this point.”

His spokesman said later that “when the time is needed for him to have a view of any pro­posed weapons sale, Sec­re­tary Gates will have one, but no such de­ci­sion has been teed up for re­view yet.”

De­fense of­fi­cials said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­lay­ing any new U.S. arms sales to Tai­wan to avoid up­set­ting mil­i­tary re­la­tions with Bei­jing, which has cut off mil­i­tary ties with the U.S. twice in the past three years. Last year, Bei­jing halted mil­i­tary re­la­tions to protest a $6.4 bil­lion arms pack­age of mis­siles and he­li­copters to Tai­wan. Ties were restarted last month with the visit to the U.S. by Gen. Chen Bingde, the Chinese army’s chief of staff.

The Se­nate has two op­por­tu­ni­ties to press the ad­min­is­tra­tion on arms sales.

Mr. Cornyn asked De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Leon E. Panetta at his nom­i­na­tion hear­ing on June 9 about wor­ri­some China se­cu­rity is­sues, but is not threat­en­ing to hold up his nom- ina­tion. A fu­ture Pen­tagon Asia pol­icy nom­i­nee, how­ever, could be de­layed by the is­sues, a Se­nate aide said.

The State Depart­ment, which has the lead on arms sales, also is vul­ner­a­ble to Se­nate pres­sure. Wil­liam Burns, un­der­sec­re­tary of state for pol­icy, is await­ing a Se­nate vote on his nom­i­na­tion to deputy sec­re­tary of state. Sen­a­tors are wait­ing for an­swers to up for months by the State Depart­ment, de­spite be­ing viewed as less likely to up­set China. The Pen­tagon also is de­lay­ing the re­lease of two re­ports to Congress on air power across the strait and China’s over­all mil­i­tary power.

State Depart­ment and White House spokes­men de­clined to dis­cuss the sales and said all agen­cies con­tinue “to be in-

“While the ad­min­is­tra­tion dithers on Tai­wan’s re­quest for F-16s, ev­i­dence con­tin­ues to mount that what Tai­wan des­per­ately needs to re­store the cross-strait bal­ance and re­gain the abil­ity to de­fend its own airspace is new fighter air­craft to bol­ster an air force that is bor­der­line ob­so­lete,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can and Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­ber, said in the Se­nate.

ques­tions about China se­cu­rity is­sues be­fore a fi­nal vote.

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has told Tai­wan’s gov­ern­ment not to for­mally re­quest new jets and, in­stead, is of­fer­ing the in­terim step of a $4 bil­lion arms-and-equip­ment pack­age to up­grade Tai­wan’s 145 F-16s that were pur­chased in the 1980s.

That pack­age has been held volved in the on­go­ing process to eval­u­ate Tai­wan’s de­fense needs.”

“No de­ci­sions on for­eign mil­i­tary sales, in­clud­ing the pos­si­ble retro­fit of F-16s, have been made,” White House spokesman Tommy Vi­etor said.

Some in the ad­min­is­tra­tion op­pose the Tai­wan arms sales based on a pol­icy that calls for closer mil­i­tary re­la­tions with China as a way to build trust with Asia’s grow­ing com­mu­nist power.

A se­nior Se­nate aide close to the is­sue said there is a sense in Congress that the ad­min­is­tra­tion wants lawmakers to force the Pen­tagon to sell new F-16s as a way to limit the ex­pected po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion from Bei­jing.

Sev­eral aides said leg­is­la­tion is be­ing con­sid­ered for the cur­rent de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill, al­though man­dat­ing a spe­cific sale of new F-16s would be dif­fi­cult.

There is bi­par­ti­san sup­port in Congress for the sale to Tai­wan, for se­cu­rity and do­mes­tic eco­nomic rea­sons.

A bi­par­ti­san group of 45 sen­a­tors wrote to Pres­i­dent Obama on May 26 ex­press­ing “se­ri­ous con­cerns about the mil­i­tary im­bal­ance in the Tai­wan Strait” and urged the sale of 66 new F-16s.

A re­port by a Texas-based fi­nan­cial group says the sale of new F-16s, pro­duced by a divi­sion of Bethesda-based Lock­heed Martin Corp., would gen­er­ate $8.7 bil­lion for con­trac­tors and sub­con­trac­tors in 44 states. It also would cre­ate more than 87,664 jobs, the re­port says.

Lock­heed has told gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials that with­out new F-16 or­ders, it may have to close down all or part of its pro­duc­tion line.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

They re­mem­ber: Tai­wanese demon­stra­tors hold a can­dle­light vigil for pro­test­ers crushed dur­ing the 1989 Tianan­men Square protests in Bei­jing at the Lib­erty Square of the Chi­ang Kai-shek Me­mo­rial Hall in Taipei on June 4. June 4th marked the an­niver­sar y of the deadly 1989 crack­down on pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers in Bei­jing which left hun­dreds dead.

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