A White House official pledged Monday that the United States will remain committed to Taiwan’s defense after a report said that Washington has rejected the island’s pitch to buy F-16 fighter jets.
A day before Vice President Joe Biden heads to China, President Barack Obama’s administration said it stood by the Taiwan Relations Act, a 1979 law that requires the United States to ensure that the island can defend itself.
“There is no change in that. We take our obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act very seriously and we don’t negotiate these issues with China,” Danny Russell, the senior White House adviser on Asia, told reporters on a conference call.
US magazine Defense News reported Sunday that a Pentagon delegation flew to Taipei to inform that Washington will reject Taiwan’s bid to buy 66 F-16C/D jets and instead offer to upgrade the island’s older F-16A/Bs.
US officials have insisted that no decision has been made on Taiwan’s request for the advanced jets, which the self-ruling island believes are necessary to close China’s rapidly growing military advantage.
“To comment on any potential arms sale to Taiwan would be very premature at this time,” said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon official.
The US Congress is a stronghold of US support for Taiwan and lawmakers across the political spectrum have been urging the Obama administration to approve the arms sales — in part as a way to create US jobs.
The United States in 1979 switched its recognition from Taipei to Beijing, but Congress at the same time passed the Taiwan Relations Act — which also states that Washington will not consult China on the island’s defense.
“The vice president has no plans to raise the Taiwan issue, certainly not arms sales, during his trip,” Russell said, while acknowledging that China would likely bring up the matter.
China considers Taiwan — where the mainland’s defeated nationalists fled in 1949 — to be a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Relations have improved markedly under Taiwan’s pro-Beijing President Ma Ying-jeou, although he has still said that the island needs new fighter jets.