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U.S. declines to sell F-16 jets to Taiwan

March 11, 2009 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The U.S. government has declined to make a long-awaited sale of block 52 F-16s to Taiwan for fear of upsetting China.

RoCAF F-16A block 20 #6618 from the 21st TFG is taking off with full afterburner on. [Photo by Falcon Tzang]

The White House blocked the $4.9 billion deal for 66 advanced F-16s last year and there was little hope of it being revived this year.

It's seems the United States doesn't want to give them to Taiwan, mainly because mainland China would oppose the sale.

In 2006 the U.S. had already blocked the sale to Taiwan of 66 F-16C/D block52s after the island's parliament repeatedly failed to approve funds for an earlier arms package.

Then in July 2008, the Financial Times reported Taiwan from its side had abandoned its interest in purchasing 66 F-16s from the US in an attempt to rescue a larger arms package sale before President Bush leaves the White House.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island.

Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary, and opposes all U.S. arms sales to the island. Washington recognizes China diplomatically and is seeking to improve relations with the Asian economic powerhouse.

Although China-Taiwan ties have improved since President Ma Ying-jeou took office on the island last year, deep military distrust lingers between the two sides.

Taiwan first asked to buy new F-16s in 2007 after approving substantial funding for the aircraft. The new planes are aimed at replacing the ageing fleet of 60 Taiwanese F-5 aircraft who are serving for almost 30 years now.

The U.S. Pacific Command said in July that U.S. policymakers saw no pressing need to sell advanced arms to Taiwan.

Additional images:

Taiwan F-16 patch (Jim & Jeff Shawhan Collection)

RoCAF F-16A block 20 #6688 from the 5th TFG is coming in for landing at Hualien AFB in June of 2006. [ photo by Koumei Lee]

RoCAF F-16A block 20 #6663 from the 5th TFG is taking off with while passing the tower at Hua-Lien AFB. [Photo by Falcon Tzang]