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Taiwan offers mixed response to US rejection of F-16 fighter jet sale (video)

Taiwan criticized the US government for declining a F-16 fighter jet sale but called Washington’s proposal a welcome step to keep the island strong against Beijing.

By Correspondent / September 22, 2011

A Taiwan Air Force F-16 fighter lands on a section of highway during a military drill in Madou, Taiwan. A US decision not to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets is being seen by many US allies in Asia as a sign of China's growing clout.

Chiang Ying-ying/AP/File


Taipei, Taiwan

In the space of a week, Taiwan has both criticized and cozied up to the US, highlighting an effort to appear strong at home in the face of a rising China while not isolating its staunchest arms supplier.

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Taiwan’s deputy Defense minister criticized the United States government for declining to sell it 66 advanced F-16 C/D fighter jets, but called Washington’s proposal to upgrade older F-16s a welcome step toward keeping the island strong against Beijing’s fast-growing military.

On one side, Taiwan must accept whatever US officials offer it militarily, as no other country will supply it with weapons to defend itself against China, a political rival of more than 60 years, experts say.

On the other, they say, Taiwan must keep pressure on Washington to buy more arms if it is to confidently face China in trade talks and impress voters at home. Over the past five years, Taiwan has issued increasingly impassioned pleas for the F-16 sale.

But, “what they really think is in a black box,” says Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

The US offer to upgrade the Taiwan’s older-model F-16 A/Bs marks “progress” in the “incremental process” of improving its military, Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang said in a phone interview Saturday.

But, days later, Mr. Yang griped to a US-Taiwan defense industry conference in the United States that Washington had caved to pressure from Beijing in putting off the request for more jets.

After the announcement in Washington, Taiwan’s Defense ministry noted it appreciated the upgrade offer but that it still wanted the late-model F-16s, among other weaponry, as the US had not ruled out a sale later.

“The Ministry of National Defense will continuously communicate with relevant US agencies to urge the approval” of new arms, the statement said.

The island government is also seen as torn between an arms strategy that answers demands at home but also fosters better ties with China.


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