NEW YORK: A senior US administration official on Monday all but confirmed reports that the United States will help Taiwan upgrade its 145 US-made F-16 A/B fighter jets.
The official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, could not confirm the information until Congress is notified of the administration's decision, which the official said will happen “Wednesday afternoon.”
The official sought to clarify leaked reports about the F-16s after saying “something got lost in translation” amid suggestions that Washington was caving in to a powerful China.
“Assuming the decision is to upgrade F-16 A/Bs, they will provide essentially the same quality as new F-16 C/D aircraft at a far cheaper price,” the senior US official said.
“And Taiwan would stand to get 145 A/Bs versus only 66 C/Ds and we're obviously prepared to consider further sales in the future,” the official said.
There were renewed calls for the US to help Taipei update its fleet last week after two Vietnam War-era jets crashed, killing all three pilots.
A US congressional source said Friday that Washington has decided not to sell Taiwan F-16 C/D, the improved version of F-16 A/B now serving the Taiwanese air force, for fear of upsetting Beijing.
But the source said Washington will help Taipei upgrade what the source said is 146 US-made F-16 A/Bs to the F-16 C/D levels.
Taipei applied in 2007 to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters, which have better radars and more powerful weapon systems, in response to China's growing military muscle.
Washington recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei but remains a leading arms supplier to the island.
Ties between China and Taiwan have improved since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on promises of ramping up trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.
But Beijing has refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan even though the island has ruled itself for more than six decades since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.
The US official sought to counter any impression Washington was going soft on supplying Taiwan with weapons.
“First the US is profoundly committed to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and that commitment remains unwavering. Second, the scale and pace of defense article sales to Taiwan over the last two years are unprecedented,” the official said.
“Weapons sales to Taiwan since 2009 will be greater than in the previous four years and they will be double the sales that occurred between 2004 and 2008.”