The Bush administration is divided over plans to sell Taiwan advanced F-16 jets, with the State Department opposing the sale and the U.S. military favoring the transfers.
Defense officials say the U.S. Pacific Command, which is in charge of U.S. forces in Asia and would lead any U.S. defense of Taiwan from Chinese attack, wants the White House to approve the sale and do so sooner rather than later because of the growing imbalance of military forces in the area.
Taiwan's air force currently flies about 150 F-16A/B model jet fighters that were purchased in 1992. Taiwan in May 2006 told the U.S. government that it wants to buy 66 F-16C/D models to counter a growing Chinese missile and aircraft threat across the Taiwan Strait. China has some 1,000 missiles within range of Taiwan and also has Russian-made Su-27 jets armed with advanced missiles in the area.
But State Department officials want the sale postponed in order to avoid upsetting China prior to the Olympic Games, saying that Beijing already is angry at the protests that have dogged the worldwide Olympic torch relay over its military crackdown on Tibet. These officials want to delay the F-16 sales until after the games or later. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and calls U.S. arms sales an interference in its internal affairs.
The Pentagon's latest annual report to Congress on the Chinese military, made public in March, stated that China continues to deploy its most advanced weapons, including missiles and aircraft, opposite Taiwan. The report said the Chinese military expansion is shifting the cross-Strait military balance in Beijing's favor.
Taiwan's legislature last year approved a long-awaited defense spending budget of $8.9 billion for 12 P-3 anti-submarine patrol craft, six Patriot anti-missile system upgrades and sea-launched surface-to-air missiles.
However, the State Department is blocking or slowing Taiwanese plans to purchase eight submarines, Patriot missiles and Apache attack helicopters.
The arms sales slowdown is backed by the White House National Security Council staff, which has been quietly behind the gradual shift over the last several years away from support for Taiwan in favor of backing Beijing on most policy issues.
A Pacific Command spokesman declined to comment.
"This administration if fully prepared to live up to its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan military capabilities to defend itself," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "We will work with the new leadership in Taiwan, once in place, to ascertain their defense needs. It is premature to talk about any specific new defense sales for Taiwan until the new defense team on Taiwan is in place."