Sat, Jul 23, 2011 - Page 3 News List

US sets date for F-16C/D sale decision

CHINESE WHISPERS:Sources said they suspected that Obama was bowing to pressure from Beijing despite promising not to give special consideration to Chinese sensitivities

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

US President Barack Obama will announce his decision on whether to sell advanced F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan no later than Oct. 1. His administration is expected to deliver a long awaited report on Taiwan’s airpower to the US Congress at the same time.

US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond--Chambers said that while he welcomed the commitment to make a decision, he felt that the timing of the announcement signaled that the administration would not sell the 66 new F-16C/Ds that Taiwan desperately needs.

“The timing of the planned decision — prior to Oct. 1 — suggests that the Obama administration has no intention of moving forward with the new F-16 C/D buy,” he said. “The decision is sandwiched between [US] Vice President [Joseph] Biden’s trip to China in August and [Chinese] President Hu [Jintao’s (胡錦濤)] trip to Hawaii in November. Xi Jinping (習近平), Hu’s expected successor, will also visit the US in the winter.”

“It doesn’t seem plausible that the Obama administration would stand up for Taiwan policy in the face of two such senior visits from China,” he said.

News that a decision deadline had been set came from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who had been negotiating with Senator John Cornyn to lift his block on the US Senate confirmation of Bill Burns to be her new deputy. Cornyn had threatened to maintain the hold on Burns’ confirmation until the Obama administration accepted Taiwan’s “Letter of Request” to buy the new F-16s and delivered the Taiwan airpower report which is expected to emphasize the need for the fighters.

Clinton informed Cornyn by telephone this week while she was in India that the report would be delivered and a decision on the sale announced by Oct. 1. On that basis, the senator lifted his hold on Burns’ confirmation.

Congressional sources agree with Hammond-Chambers that it now seems unlikely Obama will sell the F-16C/Ds, choosing instead to offer to upgrade Taiwan’s aging F-16A/Bs. While the upgrades will anger Beijing, the reaction is not expected to be anything like as severe as it would be to a sale of new F-16C/Ds.

The congressional sources — senior staff members — said they suspected Obama was bowing to Chinese pressure despite his promise not to give special consideration to Chinese sensitivities when making the decision.

“While the US-Taiwan Business Council welcomes the Obama administration’s commitment to finally make a decision, we suspect that the outcome simply reiterates decisions already made, and therefore fails to address Taiwan’s central need — new combat aircraft to meet the growing threat from China,” Hammond-Chambers said.

In addition, the F-16 A/B -upgrade has been in the US system for over a year, and a decision was made in 2010 to proceed with this program,” -Hammond-Chambers said “It is not a new commitment.”

Hammond-Chambers said the Taiwan Airpower Report was intended to inform Congress about Taiwan’s defense needs and it was originally scheduled for March 1 last year.

“It is now fully 18-plus months late and it will be delivered on the same day that a decision on the F-16s is made. This negates the original intent of the report — to inform congressional debate prior to a decision,” he said.

“I urge the administration — at all levels — to support the sale of new F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan and to protect more than 87,000 jobs connected to the program,” he said. “At a time when America needs every job it can generate, this sale will mean more than US$17 billion to the US economy. Meanwhile, it would also protect peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he added.

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