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(Adds Taiwan defense ministry comment in fifth paragraph.)
Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Barack Obama approved an arms package for Taiwan that excludes 66 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 C/D jets the island requested in 2006, the Washington Times reported on its website today.
The estimated $4.2 billion weapons deal probably includes an upgrade of Taiwan’s existing F-16 A/B fighter jets, the report said, citing unidentified administration and congressional officials. Taiwan asked for the new fighters to deter China, which considers the island a rogue province.
China objects to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and has tried to block delivery of the F-16 airplanes. The government in Beijing halted high-level military exchanges with the U.S. for about a year after the Pentagon proposed selling $6.4 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan in January 2010.
“China is opposed to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, said at a briefing today. Asked whether a decision to deny new jets and only upgrade old ones would be welcome, she replied: “Our stand on U.S. sales of arms to Taiwan is clear and firm.”
Luo Shou-he, a spokesman from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, said he was unaware of a “formal decision on the matter,” adding that “the U.S. is still reviewing Taiwan’s request.”
The U.S. supplies armaments “of a defensive nature” to the island under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The planned sale last year included advanced Lockheed Patriot missiles, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters made by United Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. anti-ship Harpoon missiles.
Chinese officials “do not regard U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as something normal,” General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told a forum in Singapore last year while relations were frayed. Chen Bingde, the army’s chief of staff, said in July that U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan hampered relations with the American military, Xinhua News Agency reported.
China has more than 1,000 missiles deployed opposite Taiwan and “is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict,” according to an annual Pentagon report released last month. The military balance “continues to shift in the mainland’s favor,” it said.
In 1992, President George Bush authorized the sale of 150 F-16 A/B warplanes worth $4 billion to Taiwan. The island’s “relatively modest defense spending has failed to keep pace with ambitious military developments on the mainland,” last month’s Pentagon report said.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and 45 other members from both parties wrote Obama on May 26 urging him to expedite the sale of 66 of the aircraft made by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed.
“We are deeply concerned that further delay of the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in closure of the F-16 production line,” the letter said.
--Editors: Ben Richardson, Mark Williams
To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at email@example.com; Janet Ong in Taipei at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com