Taipei: Taiwan wants to buy more F-16 fighter jets and will press the issue at an annual defence meeting with US officials, a military officer said Monday.
The plea for new jets comes amid growing concern in Taiwan that the balance of power with China is shifting in favour of the mainland.
“We’ll utilise the opportunity to again express the hope of buying F-16s,” the Taiwan defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference 2009 in the US state of Virginia, which runs from Sunday until Tuesday, will include speeches by state and defence department officials.
The Taiwanese side is headed by Deputy Defence Minister Chaou Shih-chang, the military official said.
Taiwan applied to the US government to buy 66 F-16 fighters in early 2007, but observers said Washington held up the deal for fear of angering Beijing.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council which organised the conference, urged the Obama administration to approve the purchase, citing China’s growing military might.
The new planes are meant to beef up the air force’s combat strength until Taiwan can buy so-called “third generation” fighters from the United States, military officers said.
The United States agreed in 1992 to sell Taiwan 150 less sophisticated F-16 fighters, but refused to supply the F-16 C/Ds that the island now wants. The F-16 C/Ds have a longer range and more powerful ground attack capability.
Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, warned earlier this month that Sino-US ties could face at least temporary strain if the US administration agrees to sell Taiwan the advanced F-16 jets.
The United States has remained Taiwan’s leading arms supplier even though it switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
China opposes any arms sales to Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory.