WASHINGTON (CNA) — The U.S.-Taiwan Business Council has expressed support for Taiwan’s request to purchase a fleet of new fighter jets from the United States, saying it would be consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).
“Taiwan has a legitimate right to purchase new airframes and to maintain a modern, well-functioning Air Force that can ensure air sovereignty,” said the council’s president, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, in a statement.
Taiwan’s military is currently upgrading its fleet of 144 F-16 A/B jets to more advanced aircraft as part of a US$3.68 billion project launched in 2016.
Taiwan has submitted an official request to Washington, but the quantity or type of aircraft that Taiwan is interested in has yet to be revealed, the statement said.
Maj. Gen. Tang Hung-an (唐洪安), head of the Air Force Command’s Planning Division, recently told reporters that Taipei is open to all fighter jet options, but it is widely believed the F-16 Vipers is the model Taipei wants.
Hammond-Chambers said new F-16Vs would help close the gap between the air strength of Taiwan and China and argued that if such a request has been made, it would represent an “important increase in Taiwan’s commitment to its own defense and security.”
“Given that this sale would be consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) requirement for the U.S. to provide Taiwan with arms to defend itself, I am hopeful that the two sides can come to an agreement,” Hammond-Chambers said.
The TRA was enacted in 1979 after Washington severed ties with Taipei to define future unofficial relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.
According to its statement, the council has long supported the sale of additional F-16s to Taiwan, believing that such a sale will “allow Taiwan to field a modern and capable fleet of fighter aircraft in sufficient numbers to meet the evolving threat represented by China’s ongoing military modernization.”
Meanwhile, Ian Easton, a research fellow at U.S. think tank Project 2049 Institute, told CNA that Washington’s apparent agreement to consider Taiwan’s request is “positive” because Washington has turned down similar requests by Taiwan in 2007 and 2011 under pressure from China.
“It is encouraging that the Trump administration is now ignoring Chinese pressure and taking Taiwan’s air defense requirements more seriously,” Easton said, adding that he is optimistic that a sale will be approved.
If a sale of upgraded aircraft were to go through, it would send a strong political signal of American support for Taiwan and help Beijing understand that its offensive threats and intimidation tactics against Taiwan have consequences.
By Chiang Chin-yeh and Emerson Lim