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Talk of the Day -- Reactions to U.S. position on new jet fighters

2012/04/28 21:24:31

Taiwan welcomes any moves that would help beef up or upgrade its defense capabilities, military spokesman Luo Shou-he said Saturday after learning that the Obama administration has promised to consider selling new jet fighters to Taiwan to help redress the country's air power deficit with China.

In response to a letter by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to President Barack Obama calling for the sale of new jet fighters to Taiwan, a White House official said Friday that the administration is mindful of and shares Cornyn's concerns about "Taiwan's growing shortfall in fighter aircraft."

Recognizing that China has 2,300 operational combat aircraft while Taiwan has only 490, Robert L. Nabors, director of the White House'sOffice of Legislative Affairs, wrote in a letter to Cornyn that the U.S. government plans to decide on a "near-term course of action on how to address Taiwan's fighter gap, including through the sale to Taiwan of an undetermined number of new U.S.-made fighter aircraft."

Local media reports cited Air Force sources as saying that Taiwanneeds a new generation of advanced warplanes, such as stealth, supersonic multirole fighters with ground attack and air defense capabilities, as well as short take-off and vertical landing aircraft.

The following are excerpts from a special report in the Saturday edition of the United Evening News on the U.S.'s promise to consider fighter sales:

Taiwan has been trying to buy 66 new F-16 C/D jet fighters, which featuremore advanced technology than its existing F-16 A/B fleet. In an arms salespackage approved last fall, the Obama administration only agreed to help upgrade Taiwan's F-16 A/B fleet, and rejected F-16C/D sales.

Asked whether the latest White House statement hints at a reversal of its position on F-16 C/D sales, Taiwan's representative office in Washington, D.C. declined to comment.

Diplomatic sources said the representative office has kept a low profile on the issue because the White House letter to Cornyn involved U.S. domesticaffairs and did not specify which U.S. warplanes might be sold to Taiwan.

The issue was also sensitive because any sale of new U.S. combat aircraft to Taiwan would infuriate China, the sources said.

In Taipei, ruling Kuomintang Legislator Lin Yu-fang, who is also a co-convenerof the Legislative Yuan's committee on foreign and defense affairs, said Nabors'letter could be seen as a policy clarification.

It also implied that Obama might agree to sell F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan if he is re-elected in November, Lin said.

"While the latest White House statement is not expected to be realizedimmediately, it could be seen as a long-term promise that might materializein two to three years time," Lin said optimistically.

According to Lin, the United States has adopted circuitous tactics on the issue of fighter jet sales to Taiwan in order to prevent any backlash from China.

The Obama administration has told Beijing that the F-16 A/B upgrade wasonly aimed at helping to enhance Taiwan's defensive capability. But Lin saidthe upgraded F-16 A/Bs are capable of meeting performance targets of F-16 C/Ds.In the long run, Lin said, the U.S. is likely to approve F-16 C/D sales to Taiwan.

However, some political pundits said Taiwan should not overreact to the latest U.S. promise on fighter sales. Besides considering Taiwan's defense needs, the U.S. also factors in Beijing's possible reaction and regional military balance in deciding whether to approve Taiwan's arms procurement proposals.

At the moment, they said, the general international situation is not favorable for Washington to sell F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan because it needs Beijing's cooperation in dealing with thorny issues with North Korea, Iran and Syria. Mounting territorial disputes in the South China Sea may also hinder new U.S. fighter sales to Taiwan at this critical juncture, the analysts said.

With China's rise as a new global power, they said Taiwan should develop more visionary strategies to cope with changing regional situations rather than focusing on arms acquisition.

Local military experts said Taiwan now wishes to buy U.S.-built F-35 joint strike fighters, a fifth generation stealth jet fighter with ground attack and air defense capabilities, or F-22 Raptors, a single-seat, twin-engine fifth-generation super-maneuverable fighter aircraft that also uses stealth technology. (April 28, 2012).

(By Sofia Wu)
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