May 04, 2012

Talk of F-16C/Ds could upset US-China negotiations

A recent White House promise to “seriously consider” selling -F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan could upset US-China security negotiations this week, the Washington-based The Hill newspaper reported.

“The administration’s shift on Taiwan could prompt Beijing to pull its support for a number of key security initiatives being pursued by the US,” it said.

It quoted former senior China analyst at the CIA Chris Johnson as saying the possible sale of fighters had “real potential to sour the tenor of the discussions.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are conducting high-level economic and security talks with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing.

Johnson said the F-16C/D issue could “throw a wrench” into the ability to move forward on pressing issues concerning North Korea, Syria and Iran.

After weeks of intense negotiation, China has backed a Syria peace plan proposed by US-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

“But Beijing could theoretically pull its support for the plan in protest of any proposed arms sales to Taiwan,” said the article, written by senior political staff members and published on its Web site.

Beijing’s relations with Iran will “almost assuredly” grow stronger if the US does end up selling fighters to Taiwan, it said.

It said the possible sale of fighter aircraft to Taiwan was an example of the administration of US President Barack Obama taking a harder line against China’s growing influence.

“It was also considered a savvy piece of political maneuvering by Obama, who is looking to counter presumptive GOP [Republican] presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s criticism of the administration’s record on China,” the newspaper said.

Patrick Cronin, a specialist on Asian-Pacific security at the Center for a New American Security, said the White House might have been prompted to make a policy shift on Taiwan by “recent reports claiming Beijing supplied North Korea with critical weapons technology.”

Cronin said the technology was used by Pyongyang to build new mobile missile launchers.

Earlier this week, former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal said during an interview with a Washington radio station that the White House letter concerning the F-16s “bears the marks of not being fully professionally prepared.”

The White House letter was delivered to Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn last week and promised the president would give new serious consideration to selling F-16C/Ds to Taiwan.

Paal said the letter was “causing ripples” both on Capitol Hill and in the policy community.

“But it’s out there and it’s the statement of the president now, and so, therefore, we have to live with it and find a way to get through these upcoming talks this week without having it blow up over the sense that China has core interests in Taiwan that we are transgressing,” Paal said.