WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. policymakers see no pressing need to sell advanced arms to Taiwan now, despite requests from Taipei for F-16 fighter jets, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command said on Wednesday.
Adm. Timothy Keating acknowledged there had been no recent arms sales to Taiwan — a perennial sore spot in U.S. relations with China, which regards Taiwan as its own territory and vows to use force if necessary to bring Taiwan under mainland rule.
U.S. decision-makers “have reconciled Taiwan’s current military posture, China’s current military posture and strategy that indicates there is no pressing, compelling need for at this moment arms sales to Taiwan of the systems that we’re talking about,” the Hawaii-based commander said at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
He added that “we are committed to the defense of Taiwan” and said a robust U.S. military presence in the region served as a “powerful deterrent” to conflict across the Taiwan Strait.
Keating also pointed to a recent warming in ties between Beijing and Taipei that has led to talks, charter flights and increased tourism, and improving trade and investment relations.
“I’m more comfortable today ... than I was 15 months ago, that my belief is well founded that it is very, very, very unlikely that there will be conflict across the strait,” Keating said.
The potential $4.9 billion deal for 66 advanced Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-16 C/D models is strongly opposed by China, as are all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Critics say the Bush administration has been stalling on the sales, and pro-Taiwan U.S. lawmakers have criticized what they call a de facto freeze on such sales. Taiwan first asked to buy new F-16s last year after approving substantial funding for the aircraft.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are fraught with complications. They are all but required by the 1979 law that switched U.S. diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing. It says the president and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such sales “based solely on their judgment of the needs of Taiwan.”
The United States has many reasons to avoid angering China, including the Beijing-hosted six-party talks aimed at rolling back and eventually scrapping North Korea’s nuclear materials and programs.
Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by David Wiessler