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F-16 Fighting Falcon

On 01 January 1979, the United States normalized relations with the People's Republic of China, terminated governmental relations with the governing authorities on Taiwan, and enacted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] stipulates that “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” The TRA states that “the President and Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, in accordance with procedures established by law.”

The PRC's ambitious military modernization, and deployments across the Strait opposite Taiwan, raise concern about its declared preference for resolving differences with Taiwan through peaceful means. This modernization is aimed at improving China's force options against Taiwan, and at deterring, countering, or complicating U.S. military intervention. It is focused on exploiting vulnerabilities in Taiwan's national and operational-level command and control system, its integrated air defense system, and its reliance on sea lanes of communication for sustenance. As China seeks to provide its leadership with credible options for the use of force, Taiwan's relative military strength will decline unless it makes significant investments in defense.

F-16 A/B - 1992

On September 2, 1992, President Bush announced his Administration's proposal to sell up to 150 F-16 fighters to Taiwan. Although the proposed sale was generally viewed as a means to win votes in the President's home state of Texas, the Congress eventually approved the sale. In November 1992, representatives of Taiwan and the United States signed an agreement for the sale of 150 Block 20 F-16 aircraft to Taiwan under the Peace Fenghuang Foreign Military Sales program. The Block 20 avionics configuration is very similar to the F-16A/B Mid-Life Update.

Domestically, the sale equated to jobs in the struggling aircraft industry, export sales to help lessen the U.S. trade deficit, and a means to maintain U.S. military aircraft production without U.S. defense expenditures. Although the sale's domestic consequences were resoundingly positive, it raised key questions for U.S./China relations and Asian political stability. Specifically, did the sale abrogate long standing agreements with the Chinese on arms sales to Taiwan?

The Chinese protested this F-16 sale as a violation of U.S./China agreements reached in 1972 and 1979 and, specifically in 1982. The Bush Administration countered that the sale did not violate the three existing bilateral communiques with China, including the 1982 accord that specifically addresses security assistance to Taiwan. The Administration stated that the 1982 communique allows for a one-for-one replacement of Taiwan's aircraft with the lowest technology available, which equates to F-16A/B aircraft.

In the past Beijing had reacted strongly and rapidly to indications that the United States would be selling new arms to Taiwan. Since President Bush‘s public statement on 30 July that he was reconsidering F—16 sales to Taiwan, however, Beijing had been relatively silent over the issue. The first public response was from a non-authoritative Hong Kong news service which reported that a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman had called on the United States in general terms to honor its commitments to China regarding sales to Taiwan, in sharp contrast to Beijing's heavy pressure on Israel and France in attempts to block them from selling fighters to Taiwan. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Huaqiu, in his 6 August meetings with US officials, did not raise the issue.

As the architect of China's US policy, Deng Xiaoping almost certainly weighed in decisively on Beijing's response to a possible US F~16 sale to Taiwan, as was the case when he reportedly made the decision that China would not act to block France‘s sale of six frigates to Taiwan. Deng's decision was almost certainly be affected by domestic politicalconcems. Deng was in the midst of a high—stakes political struggle at home and his response presumably was affected by'his assessment of how much mileage his critics could get out of an F-16 decision. The general tenor of China's policy, was that China cannot afford to be in conflict with the United States.

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Page last modified: 06-10-2021 12:14:51 ZULU