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Taiwan eying acquisition of F-35 fighters: deputy defense minister

2011/09/19 14:18:17

Richmond, Virginia, Sept. 18 (CNA) Taiwan would be pleased if the United States has indeed agreed to help upgrade its fleet of F-16 A/B jet fighters, and plans to move toward procuring the even more sophisticated F-35 model in the future, Taiwan's Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang said in Richmond Sunday.

"The retrofit of the F-16 A/B fleet is part of Taiwan's national defense policy. It would be great if the U.S. approves the deal," said Yang on the sidelines of the 2011 U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference, at which he is leading a Taiwanese delegation.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly decided to sell Taiwan a US$4.2 billion arms package that would include an upgrade to Taiwan's F-16 A/B fleet, but not the more advanced F-16 C/D fighters Taiwan is eager to acquire.

An Associated Press report cited two congressional aides as saying that the U.S. State Department gave a briefing on Capitol Hill on its decision Friday, but has yet to issue a formal notification of the intended sale. An announcement on the sale is expected by the end of this month, the AP report said.

Yang said Taiwan and the U.S. have consistently addressed security issues in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act -- the U.S. law that regulates engagements with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

"Arms procurements should follow the prescribed procedures," Yang said, adding that the U.S. decision to offer Taiwan the F-16 A/B upgrade package might not necessarily imply it had rejected the F-16 C/D deal.

Noting that the F-16 A/B retrofit and the F-16 C/D procurement are two separate matters, Yang said that Taiwan had not received any formal notification that the U.S. had decided against the F-16 C/D deal.

The F-16 A/B is a high-performance fighter jet with all sorts of combat equipment and functions and the fleet would be able to perform even better after a mid-life upgrade, according to Yang.

Asked whether a possible setback in the attempt to buy F-16 C/Ds reflected a U.S. change in its policy toward Taiwan following its increasing leaning toward Beijing in recent years, Yang said he did not think that the U.S. would take sides.

The Taiwan government remains confident of U.S. neutrality in dealing with cross-Taiwan Strait issues, he said.

As to whether Taiwan would procure a new generation of U.S.-built fighters jets such as the F-35, Yang said Taiwan would definitely move in that direction.

Any arms deal will be based on Taiwan's defense needs and ultimate goals as well as Washington's assessment of the overall situation, Yang said.

"For our part, we would not pass up any available options," the deputy defense minister said.

Yang is scheduled to meet with U.S. officials in Washington, D.C. after the defense industry conference ends.

(By Chou Yung-chieh and Sofia Wu)
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