US’ Taiwan arms sales not influenced by China ties

Last year, China severed military connections with the US for several months.

Updated: Apr 14, 2011, 11:35 AM IST

Washington: Concerns that China could cut military ties with the United States will not influence Washington`s decision-making on arms sales to Taiwan, senior US officials said on Wednesday.

Last year, China severed military connections with the United States for several months after the Obama administration approved a USD 6.4 billion arms sale to the self-governing island, which China regards as part of its territory. Washington has yet to respond to another Taiwan’s request to upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets, which if granted could see Washington-Beijing military ties severed again.

David Helvey, the Defence Department`s principal director for East Asia policy, said the Obama administration understands China`s opposition to such sales but remains committed to the United States` legal obligations, under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, to provide Taiwan the means to self-defence.

Helvey did not comment on when a decision on the F-16 sales would be made, amid speculation the administration is dragging its feet on completing the US assessment of Taiwan`s need for the planes.

He was speaking before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was created by Congress to report on the national security implications of the economic relationship between the United States and China. It also has examined China`s military build-up, which has spooked some of its neighbours and raised doubts about America`s ability to maintain military supremacy in the West Pacific.

"The larger challenge for us is to be able to have a discussion with our Chinese friends to get them to see and identify that there`s a need for a continuous dialogue and to maintain open channels of communication between our two militaries," Helvey said, stressing that was needed to prevent misunderstandings that potentially could spark crisis or conflict.

"It`s when things are tense that we need to be talking the most," said Daniel Kritenbrink, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, adding that "strategic mistrust" remained the biggest obstacle in deepening military ties.

The 100-mile-wide (160-kilometer-wide) Taiwan Strait is a potential flashpoint because of longstanding threats from China`s communist leaders to invade Taiwan if the island should ever declare independence. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949.

Relations between Taipei and Beijing have in fact improved substantially since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou came to power three years ago and sealed a landmark trade pact. But Ma`s government has continued to press for 66 American-made F-16 C/Ds, considered far more advanced than the 145 F-16 A/Bs currently in its inventory. It also has pushed for a USD 4.5 billion program to upgrade the A/Bs.

China has built up its Air Force and in January test-flew its own Stealth fighter, although it could be a decade or more before the low-visibility plane becomes operational. China also maintains a formidable battery of missiles, including hundreds arrayed against Taiwan despite their improved relations.

Bureau Report