Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) Senior officials expressed their thanks to the United States late Wednesday for agreeing to help upgrade the air force's F-16 A/B fighter fleet, saying it was an indication of the U.S. taking concrete action to implement the Taiwan Relations Act.
The U.S. government formally notified Congress earlier in the day of its intent to sell Taiwan military equipment and services worth about US$5.85 billion, prompting Foreign Affairs Minister Timothy Yang to call a late night press conference to express his thanks for U.S. commitment to boosting Taiwan's security.
The package includes upgrades of Taiwan's F-16A/B fighters, along with pilot training and spare parts, but does not include new F-16C/D fighters that the government has wanted to modernize its arsenal.
"The upgrade of F-16A/Bs will help enhance our defense capability," Yang said.
Although F-16C/D jets are not included in the package, Yang said "the upgraded F-16A/B fleet will function as well as F-16 C/Ds."
"We will continue to push for U.S. sale of F-16C/Ds," he said.
President Ma Ying-jeou also showed his thanks to the U.S. government for taking action to help defend Taiwan and reiterated his calls for the U.S. to sell F-16 C/Ds and other defensive weapons to Taiwan.
The U.S. decision to upgrade Taiwan's fighter fleet is a reaffirmation of its Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and an indication of its concern about peace across the Taiwan Strait, the president was quoted by his spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi as saying.
U.S. is obligated to provide defensive weapons to Taiwan under its TRA.
The president stressed that buying weapons from the U.S. does not at all mean an intention to engage in arms race with mainland China. Rather, it is aimed at maintaining Taiwan's security and ensuring the people's well-being, Ma was quoted as saying.
Fan Chiang said the president has succeeded in restoring high-level trust between Taiwan and the U.S., as can be seen from increased amounts of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan since Ma took office in May 2008.
Over the past three years, the government has spent an average of US$5.2 billion a year on arms purchase, higher than the annual average of US$1.35 billion during former President Lee Teng-hui's terms of office and the US$1.05 annual average during Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian's eight years in office, Fan Chiang said.
The government will keep working to improve bilateral ties with the U.S., trying to win visa-waiver treatment of the people as part of the efforts to strengthen bilateral friendship and cooperation, said the spokesman.
(By Emmannuelle Tseng, Lee Shu-hua, Elaine Hou and S.C. Chang)