A few months ago, I visited Taiwan, and received a hair-raising briefing at its defense ministry on how the military balance is shifting in favor of the mainland. The People’s Republic of China is using double-digit growth in its defense budget to field a new stealth fighter, a new aircraft carrier, new submarines, and of course lots and lots of new missiles. Taiwan, and its only real ally, the U.S., are lagging behind. That creates a dangerous situation where, in some future crisis, Beijing might gamble that it could achieve “reunification” with Taiwan by force.
To avoid that dire scenario, the U.S. needs not only to keep up the strength of our air and naval forces in the Pacific (currently imperiled by Obama’s proposed cuts in the defense budget) but also to ensure Taiwan has the means for its own defense. That is why it is so puzzling the Obama administration is refusing to sell Taiwan badly needed F-16s.
As things currently stand, Taiwan must depend on a rapidly aging fleet of F-16 A/B’s supplemented by 1950s-vintage F-5’s and its Indigenous Defense Fighter, an F-16 knock-off. This is not remotely sufficient to protect the island from the growing mainland threat. Taiwan desperately needs upgrades for its existing F-16s as well as more advanced F-16 C/F models–all of which only can be provided by the U.S.
For our part, selling the aircraft to Taiwan would be a great jobs program at a time when the unemployment rate is alarmingly high –it would generate $8.7 billion worth of sales and help keep Lockheed Martin’s F-16 production line open. That is why 47 senators have written to the White House demanding the sale be approved.
No doubt the administration continues to stall because it knows Beijing will have a fit. True, but Beijing will get over it. It certainly did last year after we sold $6.4 billion worth of military equipment to Taiwan including Patriot missiles. It has since reopened military ties with the U.S. which were cut off at that time.
In any case, we cannot let a dictatorship like China hold hostage our ability to protect an allied democracy such as Taiwan. If we do, that will cause grave doubts about the value of America as an ally and hurt our credibility throughout the Asia-Pacific region at a time when we are having a fair amount of success in assembling a de facto alliance to help keep Chinese expansionism in check.