House panel wants US to supply new F-16s to Taiwan

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2011 3:15 PM
House panel wants US to supply new F-16s to Taiwan

A House committee endorsed legislation Thursday requiring the United States to supply new F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan and deepen ties with an island nation that lawmakers said faces a military threat from China.

President Barack Obama in September approved upgrades to Taiwan's existing fleet of American-built F-16s but did not permit sales of new planes that Taiwan has sought since 2006.

The United States is required under 1979 legislation to supply Taiwan with weapons for its self-defense. The administration has sought to meet that requirement without derailing its efforts to improve relations with China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Obama's decision was "regrettable and shortsighted." She urged him to approve sales of F-16 C/D fighters and diesel submarines to help Taiwan "meet the growing menace of communist China."

Even though the two measures won committee approval, it seems likely that they would stall in the Senate. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate in September, but has yet to reach the floor for a vote.

The committee's top Democrat, California Rep. Howard Berman, said approval of the F-16 bill reflected the bipartisan commitment in the House to maintain Taiwan's security.

But, he added, the administration has shown that it is deeply committed to America's presence in the Asia-Pacific, reflected in the president's announcement this week to deploy more troops in Australia.

That step is widely viewed as a response to China's military buildup over the past decade and assertive territorial claims in seas that are a critical conduit for world trade.

At a separate hearing Thursday, Mark Lippert, nominee for assistant defense secretary for the Asia-Pacific, said the decision only to upgrade Taiwan's F-16s was aimed at getting the best air capability in place as soon as possible.

One of the bills requires the president to sell no fewer than 66 F-16 C/D aircraft to Taiwan. The second specifies various steps to deepen ties such as expediting Taiwan's inclusion on a U.S. visa-waiver program, and exchanges of visits by Cabinet-level officials.

No Cabinet secretary has visited Taiwan since July 2000.

Relations between Taiwan and China have improved in the past three years as trade ties have grown, bringing tensions across the Taiwan Strait to their lowest in six decades. But China retains more than 1,200 missiles arrayed against the island.