a drive to buy advanced U.S.-built F-16 fighter aircraft, confronting President Barack Obama with a delicate decision.
Detailing its arms shoppinglist for the first time since Obama took office, Taipei Economic andCultural Representative Office (TECRO) said Taiwan's current fighter force was inadequate to a potential threat from China. The largest part of Taiwan's air force, the F-5 fighter, has been in service for more than 34 years, said TECRO's spokesman.
"The planes now are obsolete and spare parts are difficult toobtain," said spokesman, Vance Chang, in an email response to questionsabout Taiwan's arms requests. China has built increasingly advancedfighters, the statement said, "therefore our air superiority capabilityis at a serious disadvantage."
"Taiwan's determination to defend itself is indisputable," it added.
Taiwan has been trying for 12 years to buy F-16 C/D models built by Lockheed Martin Corp of Bethesda, Maryland. The U.S. government is required by a 1979 law to provide Taiwan sufficient arms to defend itself.
Successive U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican,have managed the weapons flow to minimize fallout with China. In itsfinal years, former President George W. Bush's administration would noteven accept a formal request for the advanced F-16s, said theU.S.-Taiwan Business Council, which represents about 100 companies,including Lockheed Martin.
The United States "has an obligation to assist Taiwan to maintain acredible defense of its air space, which includes modern fighters,"said council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers.
Taiwan wants 66 F-16 C/Ds valued at up to US$4.9 billion to bolster 150 F-16A/B models it bought in 1992.
The State Department had no immediate comment on the statement from TECRO.
In October, the Bush administration notified Congress of possiblearms sales to Taiwan of up to US$6.4 billion, including Patriot"Advanced Capability" antimissile batteries, Apache attack helicoptersand Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
"We were eager to achieve a golden mean - a robust package of armssales that met Taiwan's immediate defense needs but was not perceivedin Beijing as undermining the progress in cross-strait relations," saidDennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian affairs on Bush's WhiteHouse National Security Council. "I believe we achieved that goal," he added in an email response to Reuters.
TECRO made clear Ma's administration was still seeking UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters built by United Technologies Corp's Sikorsky unit and design work on modern diesel-electric submarines.
These two items were cleared for release to Taiwan by Bush as partof a landmark arms offer in April 2001, but left out of the Octobernotification to Congress. The deals were held up for years, largely bypartisan hurdles to funding in Taiwan.
Wilder said the Bush administration had told Taiwan that it was notdenying it any of the weapons approved in 2001, but would leave thedecision to Obama.