In a surprising turn of events over US arms sales to Taiwan, a US senator said he would use his powers to block a full Senate vote on the appointment of a new deputy secretary of state until Washington approves the sale of F-16C/D aircraft requested by Taipei.
US Senator for Texas John Cornyn, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the US Department of State must inform Taipei that it would act on a formal Letter of Request (LOR) from the Taiwanese government to purchase 66 new F-16C/Ds. Should Washington fail to do so, Cornyn said he would use his powers to block a full Senate vote on the nomination of William Burns, currently US undersecretary of state for political affairs, as deputy secretary of state, the Washington Times reported on Wednesday, citing information from Senate aides.
Cornyn’s threatened hold also applies to the release by the Pentagon of a long-delayed report to Congress on the balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Burns’ appointment during a meeting on Thursday. Also approved were the nominations of US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke as ambassador to China and Ryan Crocker as ambassador to Afghanistan. A full Senate vote is now required before the appointments can be confirmed.
To date, Taiwan has submitted three LORs to the US on the F-16C/Ds. All three were made by the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). The administrations of former US president George W. Bush and US President Barack Obama have refused to accept the letters, reportedly over concerns about possible negative repercussions on US-China relations.
Asked for comment about Cornyn’s gambit, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council Rupert Hammond-Chambers was upbeat about the significance of the move.
“Finally we’re seeing real ways by the Congress to provide real leverage on the government to act on the F-16s,” he told the Taipei Times yesterday, adding that this would force the Obama administration to respond.
As to how long Cornyn could force a hold on the vote, Hammond-Chambers said it was hard to tell and that to give a timeline would telegraph to the US State Department how long it needed to wait things out.
“Taiwan should submit a new LOR immediately,” he said.
For his part, former Taiwanese representative to Washington Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said the development meant that the Obama administration would find itself under pressure to make a decision.
“This will come from various corners, including the US Congress, the policy community, Taipei and the media ... especially after statements [by Hammond-Chambers during testimony at the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on June 16] that the US administration has declined to receive the LORs,” Wu said.
This also puts pressure on the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration to submit a new LOR as soon as possible, he said.
Wu nevertheless said that other factors could continue to delay a response by the Obama administration.
“If something is going to happen, I’d say timing will be an important factor. This applies to the elections in Taiwan,” he said. “The presidential election in the US also needs to be considered.”