- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2011

President Obama has decided to sell a new arms package to Taiwan that will likely include weapons and equipment to upgrade the island’s F-16 jets, according to administration and congressional officials.

Congress will be briefed Friday on the arms package, worth an estimated $4.2 billion, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A formal announcement is expected soon.

“All we’ve been told is the president has made a decision, and I assume it will be for the F-16 A/B upgrade package,” said a senior congressional aide close to the issue.

The president decided against selling Taiwan 66 advanced F-16 C/D model aircraft, despite several requests from Taipei and Congress, the officials said.

The decision ends nearly two years of debate within the administration and Congress over whether to sell advanced strike aircraft.

**FILE** Two F-16 jet fighters (Associated Press)
**FILE** Two F-16 jet fighters (Associated Press) more >

The White House declined to comment.

Supporters of the sale say new F-16s, produced by Lockheed Martin, are needed to bolster Taiwan’s defenses against China’s growing air power and to produce jobs for the U.S. aerospace industry.

China, which opposes U.S. arms sales, is expected to react harshly to the upgrade package. China’s military cut off exchanges with the Pentagon in 2008 and last year after two arms packages were announced.

The Obama administration has made its policy of seeking closer military ties with China a high priority, one reason that the president rejected new F-16s in the latest arms sales package, the officials said.

China’s U.S. debt holdings also likely influenced the decision. In February 2010, Chinese military leaders called for punishing the United States for arms sales to Taiwan by calling in some of the $1.1 trillion in China’s Treasury debt holdings.

A senior administration official said the decision not to sell new F-16s is a setback for officials in the administration who are concerned about Taiwan’s declining defenses. The opposition to selling the new jets came mainly from within the State Department, the official said.

The State Department had no immediate comment.

In August, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, held up the nomination of William Burns to be deputy secretary of state over the jet sale. Mr. Cornyn released the hold after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised that a decision on the next Taiwan arms package would be made by Oct. 1.

In addition, the Pentagon is expected to release a long-delayed study on the air power balance across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait. The study is said by officials to show that Taiwan's air force urgently needs modernization.

China has been building up its air forces along the coast opposite Taiwan with more advanced warplanes, including Russian-made Su-27s, Su-30s and Chinese J-10 fighters.

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