CNA and AFP

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON — Taiwan needs high-performance jet fighters that are more advanced than its existing fleet, the Ministry of National Defense said after it was reported that the U.S. House of Representatives voted in agreement Friday to sell F-16C/D jets to Taiwan to address the disparity in air power across the Taiwan Strait.

“The Republic of China (Taiwan) is presently preparing to upgrade its F-16A/B fleet,” the ministry’s spokesman Luo Shou-he said, adding if Taiwan does procures new jets, their performance level should exceed that of the upgraded planes.

Luo noted that he could not confirm the validity of reports on the U.S. Congress supporting the sale of the jets to Taiwan at the time the interview was conducted, and declined to comment further on the issue.

The House of Representatives voted Friday to require the United States to sell 66 new fighter-jets to Taiwan, with lawmakers saying the deal would close a growing military gap with China. The House of Representatives voted to force President Barack Obama’s administration to authorize the sale of F-16 jets in addition to plans under way to upgrade existing planes. The measure still needs Senate approval. The measure’s main sponsor, Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas, said that Taiwan needed more than an upgrade of its aging fleet in light of the rapid growth in military spending by China, which claims the island. “The sale of F-16s to Taiwan ensures our key strategic ally in the Pacific has the defense capacity to defend its own airspace,” Granger said in a statement Friday. “Our support for a democratic Taiwan is consistent with our national security priorities in the region and demonstrates that we will continue to stand by our friends and allies no matter who or where the threats are from.” The House of Representatives approved the measure by a voice vote late Thursday as part of a slew of amendments to a defense bill adopted in a marathon session. The Republican-controlled chamber the full bill on Friday. The Obama administration, whose Democratic Party controls the Senate, authorized a US$5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan’s existing jets in September but held off on the sale of brand-new jets. The administration argued that the upgrade would bring more immediate benefits to Taiwan than a sale. But the move was widely seen as a way to limit criticism from China at a time when the United States seeks Beijing’s cooperation on a range of issues from trade disputes to standoffs with North Korea and Iran.