Washington, April 27 (CNA) The United States will consider a proposal to sell new fighter jets to Taiwan as one of the options to resolving the disparity in numbers of such aircraft across the Taiwan Strait, the White House said Friday.
In a letter to Republican Senator John Cornyn, the White House said the proposal by Cornyn warrants “serious consideration given the growing military threat to Taiwan.”
“We are committed to duly evaluating its merits as deliberations continue over Taiwan’s long-term defense priorities and requirement,” wrote Robert L. Nabors, assistant to President Obama and director ofthe Office of Legislative Affairs, in response to a letter by Cornynurging President Barack Obama to address the issue of the fighterjet shortfall in Taiwan compared with China.
Cornyn also implied that Senate confirmation of Mark Lippert as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs could be put on hold over the Taiwan arms issue.
Cornyn has since lifted his hold on the Senate confirmation of Lippert, who was confirmed in the post Thursday.
The White House said the development of a comprehensive defense strategy for Taiwan vis-a-vis China will be one of the priority tasks for the new assistant secretary of defense.
"We recognize that China has 2,300 operational combat aircraft, while our democratic partner Taiwan has only 490," the White House said.
Lippert, in consultation with other agencies and Congress, “will play a lead role as the Administration decides on a near-term course of action on how to address Taiwan's fighter gap, including through the sale to Taiwan of an unidentified number of new U.S-made fighter aircraft," Nabors said in the letter.
The U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, which is dedicated to fostering trade and business relations between the two countries, said thelanguage in White House's letter on Friday differs significantlyfrom the administration’s earlier response to Cornyn's concerns over the Taiwan arms issue.
For example, in a letter dated Feb, 15, the U.S. Department of Defense said "we believe the F-16 A/B upgrade effectively meets Taiwan's current needs,” the council said.
Senator Cornyn is not alone in expressing his concerns over U.S. efforts to support Taiwan's legitimate requirement for a modern and fully capable air force, the council noted.
The Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act , a bipartisan piece of legislation crafted by Senator Cornyn and Senator Robert Menendez, may be considered in the House later this spring, the council said.
The bill would require the Obama administration to sell Taiwan no fewer than 66 new F-16C/D fighter jets.
"The issue is continuing to attract attention because as the program to upgrade Taiwan's 145 F-16 A/Bs begins, and in the absence of new F-16 s C/Ds, Taiwan will have as few as 75 usable modern fighters at any given time between 2016 -2022," the council said.
(By Jay Chou and Lilian Wu)