Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has promised a decision soon on whether the U.S. will sell new fighter jets to Taiwan.
The move is part of a deal with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who had been holding up the confirmation of Clinton’s new deputy in a bid to force a decision on the sale of the fighter jets. An aide to Cornyn said Clinton called the senator on Wednesday, while she was on a state visit to India, to offer the deal.
In his agreement with Clinton, Cornyn promised he would allow a full Senate vote on the confirmation of William J. Burns as deputy secretary of state. In exchange, Clinton will announce by Oct. 1 what jets, if any, the Obama administration will offer to Taiwan. Clinton also said she would on Oct. 1 release a report, required by Congress, that assesses whether Taiwan’s air force needs the jets.
For years, Taiwan and its supporters in Congress have been pressing the White House to sell new F-16 jets to the island. Meanwhile, China – which claims Taiwan as part of its territory -- has waged a heavy diplomatic counteroffensive to stop the deal.
The most recent debate involves two proposals. One seeks to upgrade 145 older-model F-16s owned by the Taiwanese air force; the other involves selling 66 newer and more-advanced F-16s to Taiwan.
The last time the United States sold arms to Taiwan — a $6.4 billion deal last year for Patriot antimissile systems, helicopters and mine-sweeping ships — China broke off all military ties with the United States.
Clinton’s promise to announce a decision soon on the F-16 sale suggests the government will likely agree only to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fighters — a move likely less troubling to the Chinese -- said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. The reason, he said, is that Xi Jiping, who is likely to be China’s next president, is expected to visit Washington at the end of this year, if not later.
“If Obama were planning to upset the Chinese, he would likely wait until after that meeting to announce it, not Oct. 1,” Hammond-Chambers said.