Taipei: Taiwan Tuesday urged the United States to sell the island F16 fighter jets to ensure its security, as a senior American envoy said a deal could not be ruled out during the Barack Obama administration.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou made the case for the aircraft in a meeting with Raymond Burghardt, a top US policy maker on Taiwan, amid growing concern here that the balance of power with China is shifting in the mainland’s favour.
“Taiwan wishes to acquire the F16 C/D fighter jets as soon as possible to replace its aging F5 fleet and ensure its aerial safety,” a presidential statement quoted Ma as saying.
Burghardt, chairman of the Washington-based American Institute in Taiwan, later said a sale of F16s might take place during the current US administration.
“It hasn’t been ruled out,” he told reporters.
Burghardt, who is on a five-day visit to Taiwan, said his local interlocutors repeatedly brought up weapons sales.
“The issue of arms sales, and specifically of F16s, was definitely raised quite seriously by nearly everybody I met with,” he said.
Taiwan’s relations with China have warmed since Beijing-friendly Ma became president in May last year, but apprehension about the growing might of the mainland still lingers.
“Taiwan has its list of items it wants to buy… and this is pushed with the same kind of urgency, the same kind of seriousness that it always has been. I really have not seen a difference,” Burghardt said.
Taiwan frequently cites the missile threat from China as a source of insecurity.
The most recent Taiwanese estimate is that China has an inventory of 1,500 ballistic and cruise missiles, the majority of which are pointed towards the island.
“The number (of missiles) continues to grow. It’s hard to have a good explanation of it. It’s a form of threat. It’s one way to look at it. And I would say that yes, of course they should remove the missiles,” Burghardt said.
Burghardt’s institute has handled unofficial ties with Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
In the 30 years since, the United States has remained a leading arms supplier to the self-ruled island.
Taiwan applied to the US government to buy 66 F-16 fighters in early 2007, but observers say Washington has held up the deal for fear of angering Beijing.
China opposes any arms sales to Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the two sides have been split since the end of a civil war in 1949.