The Cable

45 senators tell Obama: Sell Taiwan some F-16s already!

Unless the United States sells Taiwan some new fighter jets, the military balance between Taiwan and China will continue to spiral out of control to the detriment of both Taiwanese and U.S. security, 45 U.S. senators wrote on Thursday to President Barack Obama.

"Taiwan desperately needs new tactical fighter aircraft," the senators wrote in the May 26 letter, obtained by The Cable. In light of the fact that China continues to pile up missiles, ships, aircraft, and submarines on its shore opposite Taiwan (which Beijing still considers a breakaway province), the senators want Obama to sell Taiwan 66 new F-16 fighters of the C and D variants.

The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and James Inhofe (R-OK), the two senators who resurrected the Senate Taiwan Caucus in January just in time for the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao. But it was also signed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the two leaders of the brand-new China Working Group, which was created to build ties between Congress and Beijing.

The senators admit they have more than one motivation for selling F-16 fighters to Taiwan.

"We are deeply concerned that further delay of the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in the closure of the F-16 production line, and urge you to expedite this defense export process before the line closes," they wrote.

Over 4,500 F-16s have been produced and deployed by the U.S. and over a dozen other countries in the last 40 years, but the U.S. air force no longer purchases the plane and producer Lockheed Martin depends on foreign sales to keep the F-16 business going.

But there's little prospect the Obama administration will approve the sale of F-16s to Taiwan anytime soon. Its decision to sell Taiwan $6.2 billion of arms in early 2010 provoked a reaction from Beijing that scuttled U.S.-China military-to-military cooperation for over a year -- and that sale didn't even include any F-16s.

"United States arms sales to Taiwan seriously damaged China's core interests and we do not want to see that happen again, neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship," Chinese Minister for National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie said during a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Jan. 10.

Gates told the Chinese that the arms sales would continue, as they have for decades, under the Taiwan Relations Act, a U.S. law that mandates that the United States support Taiwan's self-defense.

"[I]f the relationship between China and Taiwan continued to improve and the security environment for Taiwan changed, then perhaps that would create the conditions for reexamining all of this," Gates said at a roundtable after the meeting. "But that would be an evolutionary and a long-term process, it seems to me. I don't think that's anything that's going to happen anytime soon."

Gates and Liang may get a chance to talk it over next week. Both will be in Singapore attending the 10th annual Shangri-La Dialogue hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Also in attendance at the conference in Singapore will be... your humble Cable guy.

AFP/Getty Images

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