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Report: U.S. blocks F-16 sale to Taiwan

The Obama administration wants to prevent the sale of 66 F-16 Cs and Ds to Taiwan, according to a report in Defense News. As with everything involving the U.S., Taiwan, and mainland China, the details are complicated and almost absurd, as reporter Wendell Minnick writes:

A U.S. defense industry source said that Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), was preparing to submit its fourth [letter of request] for price-and-availability data for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). But it was told by AIT that the LoR would not be accepted. AIT declined to comment.

"AIT is not opposed to the sale," the source said. "This is a State Department and National Security Council issue."

The issue has become a Catch-22 for Taiwan, in which TECRO cannot submit a [request] to AIT because it is under State Department orders to deny it, and then TECRO is told by the State Department that the LoR cannot be processed because it was not received, he said.

Taiwan's requests for F-16C/Ds and an upgrade package for 146 aging F-16A/B fighters have been on hold since 2006 and 2009, respectively. The U.S. government blocked three earlier LoR attempts for C/Ds made between 2006 and 2007.

But Taiwan allies and defense advocates in Washington want this deal to happen, Minnick writes. F-16 manufacturer Lockheed Martin estimates it could be worth $8.7 billion and generate 16,000 jobs. And if it can't sell more F-16s somewhere, Lockheed says it'll have to shutter the production line in 2013.

John Noonan, a spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, questioned why the sale shouldn't go forward.

"Taiwan already has F-16s, so selling them some new ones should not be controversial," Noonan told Buzz. "The sale would be good for a key ally, good for regional security, and good for the United States in that the $8.7B is projected to create 16,000 new jobs."

With no official word yet about what's going on, there's no way to say definitively this decision was made to placate Beijing -- but that might not be a bad assumption. This exact issue came up when China's top military officer, Gen. Chen Bingde, was in the Pentagon earlier this year, and he confirmed that the U.S.-Chinese relationship would be harmed by another sale of weapons to Taiwan -- which is part of China, after all, Chen said, so why would it need American military equipment?

Add that to global nervousness about whether Republicans and Democrats will be able to agree on raising the U.S. debt ceiling, with the prospect of default looming over everything, and the Obama administration may have decided that this just wasn't the right time to antagonize Beijing by selling this batch of jets. The problem, as Taiwan advocates might point out, is that given the mainland government's views on Taiwan (as exemplified by Chen) there will never be a "good" time for the U.S. to support Taipei. So if Washington waves off now, when could a deal ever go through?

What do you think?

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