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Taiwan Losing Ability to Deter China

The Osama bin Laden raid notwithstanding, the Obama administration continues to project an air of weakness and irresolution on national security that will come back to haunt us. The latest example is its refusal to sell F-16s to our democratic ally Taiwan.

Taiwan is facing a growing imbalance of cross-Straits power as China continues to increase its defense budget by double-digit figures every year. This buildup is tilting the odds against the U.S. Navy in the western Pacific and making it increasingly likely Taiwan would be on its own in any crisis. That makes it all the more imperative Taiwan have the ability to defend itself.

But while the People’s Republic of China is fielding fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighters, Taiwan must rely for air defense on antiquated F-5s from the 1960s and F-16s from the early 1990s. The former are no longer airworthy; indeed two of the F-5s crashed just last week. The F-16s are in better shape but still far from state-of-the-art. But instead of selling Taiwan 66 new F-16s, as requested, the administration has decided instead to help upgrade the existing F-16s.

That’s better than nothing, I suppose, but only just. It certainly does nothing to correct the growing imbalance of power. It also delivers another hit to the U.S. economy since Lockheed Martin’s F-16 production will most likely have to close without the Taiwan sale. resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs. Why is it  this administration, so eager to ladle out billions to create make-work public sector jobs, is so cavalier about destroying skilled and valuable employment in the defense sector?

Presumably, the administration refused to make the sale because it is so afraid of a backlash from Beijing. No doubt there would be a backlash, but as history proves, it’s temporary; certainly George H.W. Bush’s decision to sell 150 F-16s to Taiwan in 1992 did no long-term damage to U.S.-China relations. Indeed, such a show of resolution, were it to be repeated, could well improve our relations with the mainland because it would signal we will not be pushed around, thus earning us begrudging respect from China’s rulers. It would certainly lessen the chances of conflict in the Taiwan Strait by enhancing Taiwan’s ability to deter China. By kowtowing to the mainland on this issue, the Obama administration increases the chance of conflict and emboldens China to act even more aggressively with its neighbors.

 



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