Taiwan to budget for 2012 F-16 upgrade: Official

A senior Taiwanese official warns China`s threat against island is growing.

Taipei: Taiwan is allocating money for possible US’ help to upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets, a military spokesman said on Wednesday, two days after a senior Taiwanese official warned that China`s threat against the island is growing.

Any American decision to improve Taiwan`s defensive capabilities would almost certainly anger China, which considers the island part of its territory and opposes US arms sales as interference in its domestic affairs.

The comments from air force spokesman Pan Kung-hsiao came amid Taiwanese media reports that the Obama administration has agreed to upgrade the island`s fleet of American-made 146 F-16A/Bs, which it received more than a decade ago.

Pan said that while no notification had yet been given to Taiwan`s military, it would ask the legislature to provide funding for the upgrade in 2012.

However, he said that acquisition of an entirely new version of the F-16, the more advanced C/Ds, remains the military`s top priority because that aircraft suits Taiwan`s defence needs better than the A/Bs.

"Our primary interest remains the procurement of F-16 C/Ds rather than the upgrade of F-16 A/Bs," Pan said.

At a Taiwan-US defence industry conference in Maryland on Monday, Deputy Defence Minister Andrew Yang said China is continuing to deploy more and more sophisticated weapons against the island, despite rapidly improving commercial ties between the sides.

Yang`s comments were unusually strong for an official in President Ma Ying-jeou`s government, which since taking office in May 2008, has helped lower tensions across the 100-mile (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest level in six decades.

China has been using a variety of financial inducements to convince Taiwanese both in and out of government that political union with the mainland — the cornerstone of Beijing`s Taiwan policy since the sides split amid civil war in 1949 — is in the island`s interests.

But Taiwan continues to insist it needs access to US weaponry to help defend itself against a possible Chinese attack. The US is obligated by law to provide the democratic island the means to defend itself.

Beijing cut military contacts with Washington in January over the Obama administration`s announcement of a USD 6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan, and according to the Pentagon, only restored them last month.

Aside from Washington`s security support for Taiwan, Beijing is also wary of an increasing US presence in the western Pacific.

China reacted angrily after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a regional security forum in July that the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes between China and its neighbours was in America`s national interest.

Beijing said Washington was interfering in an Asian regional issue.

But Washington has not relented. It expressed support for Japan last month in Tokyo`s spat with Beijing over the islands claimed by both in the East China Sea, and piqued the Chinese by calling for freedom of navigation in other area waters.

Bureau Report