U.S. Congress Pushes F-16 Release For Taiwan
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - 136 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to President Obama on May 12 urging the release of new F-16s to Taiwan.
The signatories are "basically the Taiwan Caucus list on the House side," said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president, U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. This includes a significant block from the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee, he said.
The letter "commends" the Administration's decision to release a $6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan in January 2010, which included Patriot PAC-3 missiles and Black Hawk utility helicopters, but the signatories of the letter are "disappointed the package did not include the 66 F-16 fighter aircraft that Taiwan has expressed strong interest in since 2006."
According to a paper released by the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council on May 11, "The Balance of Air Power in the Taiwan Strait," the air force only has 387 aging fighters consisting of U.S., French and indigenous origins: 145 F-16A/Bs, 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF), 56 Mirage 2000-5s and 60 F-5E/Fs.
The Congressional letter reminded the Administration of the continuing threat by China of 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at the island. Describing Taiwan's security situation as "precarious," the letter addresses China's threats to invade or coerce the island using military force.
Quoting from the Taiwan Relations Act, the letter reminds the White House it is the policy of the U.S. to "consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means... a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."
F-16 production schedules are also a pressing issue as the "production line of F-16s is scheduled to end in the next several months only makes the sale of these fighters all the more pressing for Taiwan."
According to the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council report, the last F-16s under contract are slated for delivery by the end of 2013. Along with a 36-month manufacturing lead-time, the push to release F-16s is growing momentum.
The question is whether the Obama administration will bend to pressure from China to prohibit the release. Demands from Beijing have increasingly become a factor in Washington as China's economic, diplomatic and military power has grown. A Taiwan air force official recently said the chances of getting F-16s were "zero" due largely to China's influence in Washington.
Some sources also point to improved relations between China and Taiwan over the past year as an indicator that additional arms from the U.S. are unnecessary. Progress in cross-Strait ties has accelerated the signing of a variety of new agreements, such as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.