Taiwan's Defense Ministry has decided to slash the budget next year for procuring advanced F-16 C/D fighters jets from the U.S., a spokesman said Tuesday but added that Taipei remains determined to purchase the planes.
The statement by Luo Shou-he followed a long delay in a U.S. decision on the sale as the Obama administration is reluctant to enrage China while it seeks Beijing's cooperation on various international economic and security issues.
The move also reinforced the mixed signals sent out by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou about his government's willingness to bolster Taiwan's defenses while pursuing close China ties.
Ma has often said Taiwan can ill afford an arms race with an increasingly deep-pocketed Beijing, and his government recently postponed the procurement of two U.S. weapon systems due to what a ruling Nationalist lawmaker describes as lack of defense budget.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Luo said his ministry can adjust the budget once Washington approves the deal without offering an exact number on the size of the budget reduction.
"As the U.S. still has not reached a decision on the sale, we will lower the budget next year so our limited defense budget can be used somewhere else," Luo said. "Our firm commitment to procure the weapons remains unaffected."
Taiwan's mass circulation Liberty Times reported Monday the budget for F-16s will shrink from hundreds of millions of dollars to $10 million in 2012.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing still claims Taiwan as its own and is determined to retake Taiwan, by force if necessary. It sees U.S. arms sales to Taipei as interference in its domestic affairs.
The U.S. is Taiwan's most important strategic partner and is required by law to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons against a possible Chinese attack.
However, with Beijing's incensed reaction to its early 2010 approval of a $6.4 billion Taiwan arms package in mind, Washington has shown no interest in a reprise.