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Hill Taiwan backers urge U.S. to close F-16 sale

Congressional Taiwan supporters have asked the Obama administration to give the green light for an oft-discussed, much-delayed sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan, according to a report this week. Some 181 members of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus urged President Obama in a letter to lift the diplomatic barriers that have been blocking the sale, which we last heard about back in June.

As Taiwan's Central News Agency reported, the lawmakers -- led by House Reps. Shelley Berkely, D-Nev.; Gerry Connolly D-Va.; Mario Diaz-Balart R-Fla.; and Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. -- "said Taiwan is threatened by China's continued military build-up.  Moreover, many U.S.and Taiwanese experts have warned that Taiwan is losing its advantage of quality defensive weapons, as well as its military deterrence capability." And although the story didn't cite this in particular, the letter has appeared close on the heels of  last month's encounter between Mainland Chinese fighters, Taiwanese fighters and an American U-2 spy plane over the Taiwan Strait.

Pentagon officials won't go into detail about what actually took place, and they basically said, look, Chinese fighters chase or harass American surveillance aircraft all the time; this wasn't unusual -- and it's not even in the same league as the infamous 2001 crash of the U.S. Navy EP-3. (Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker last year that the Chinese used gear from that bird to spy on U.S. communications for years, until the military was forced to spend "hundreds of millions of dollars," he wrote, replacing the tainted networks.) So if WestPac Jousting is just the way the game is played these days between China and the U.S., why did this particular U-2 incident come to light?

A cynic might conclude that Taipei's allies wanted to publicize it to revive their case that Taiwan needs the latest and greatest F-16s to defend itself against the Mainland, which Buzz readers know is building carriers and its own stealth fighters and all sorts of other new weapons these days. But Taiwan just can't catch a break -- not only are American officials probably unenthusiastic about irritating Beijing with a major arms sale, fate itself has intervened: The Taiwan caucus' letter was unveiled Monday, and a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Taiwan that was scheduled for Tuesday might have upped the momentum. But all business was postponed after adjournment following the passage of the debt ceiling deal, so now Taiwan may have to wait until House lawmakers are back in session in September for them to make its case.

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