02:33 GMT +322 October 2019
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    Two US-made F-16 fighters take off from the Chiayi air force base in southern Taiwan during a demonstration on January 26, 2016

    Taiwan Wants to Buy Advanced F-16, Tanks Amid US-China Tensions

    © AFP 2019 / SAM YEH
    Asia & Pacific
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    The self-governing island already asked to buy advanced F-16V fighter jets from the United States in order to refresh its existing ageing fleet of F-16A/Bs. This appeal was rebuffed by the Obama administration. However, Taiwan has renewed its requests during Trump’s presidency.

    Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has revealed that her government has submitted a request to the US for F-16V fighters and M1 Abrams tanks to advance the island’s ageing fleet. According to her, the advanced fighter jets and tanks will "greatly enhance our land and air capabilities, strengthen military morale, and show to the world the US commitment to Taiwan's defence". 

    Tsai, who is reportedly seeking re-election for another four-year term in 2020, also confirmed Taiwan’s commitment to switching to an all-volunteer armed force and boosting defence spending. She noted that the programmes, the island’s authorities have funded, “will make a real difference in Taiwan's defence”.

    "We are also investing heavily into training as well as modernising our defence strategies to prioritise the use of asymmetrical capabilities, so that they more closely correspond with the realities of the threat we face", Tsai pointed out, expressing a hope that this "will ensure that the people of Taiwan remain able to choose our own futures, free of coercion".

    Tsai made the statements during an unofficial visit to Hawaii, closing out her tour to the Pacific island nations of Palau, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands, which are in the meagre list of Taiwan’s 17 allies.

    Taipei has long sought to reinforce its military forces with new US jets, asking to purchase General Dynamics F-16s back in 2011, too, but was rebuffed by the Obama administration, which instead opted to help Taiwan refurbish its existing fleet of F-16A/B models — the earliest versions of the aircraft, dating from the 1970s. Since then, Lockheed Martin, which now owns the brand, has been working under a $5.3 billion contract to renovate Taipei's jets and is expected to finish by 2023.

    Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence, however, recently made a broad and nonspecific request to Washington for new and advanced fighter jets in order to "demonstrate our determination and ability to defend ourselves". According to earlier reports by Focus Taiwan, the head of the Taiwanese Air Force Command Headquarters Planning Division, Tang Hung-an said that "the F-15, F-18, F-16 and even the F-35 are all among our options, as long as the jets help to strengthen our air defence capabilities".

    READ MORE: How Can Prospect of Taiwanese F-16 Procurement Affect US Trade Talks With China?

    Later in the day Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang reiterated Beijing's opposition on the arms sale.

    "China strongly opposes the sale of any US arms to Taiwan, this is a clear and unchanging position of Beijing", Geng told a briefing. "Beijing is calling on the United States to recognize the sensitivity of this problem, respect the principle of 'One China'".

    Although there has so far been no official information about the intention of the US to fulfil the request, there have been reports that Donald Trump's advisors are pushing for the purchase to be approved. This has raised serious concerns in Beijing and topped the list of points of discord between the two countries, including the tariff war and the row over Huawei. 

    Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory even though the island's government acts as an independent state despite a lack of diplomatic recognition from the international community. Washington maintains a precarious relationship with Taipei. Unable to have formal diplomatic relations, the two governments communicate via the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents US interests on the island. Until 1979, the US recognised the government in Taipei as the legitimate government of all of China, but then later switched its recognition to Beijing.

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    Tags:
    defence, drills, military, M1 Abrams tank, F-16 fighter jet, Lockheed Martin, Tsai Ing-wen, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, China, Taiwan, United States
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