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A group of Obama administration officials that favors ramping up military hardware sales and closer defense relations with Taiwan is closely watching China’s reaction to the latest $5.8 billion arms package to the island, announced last week.

So far, the response from Beijing is muted. No major cancellation of military relations with the Pentagon has occurred, as happened last year after a major arms package was announced.

“The group wants a very robust set of weapons and other defense measures that would reverse the decline of Taiwan’s armed forces,” said one official familiar with the group.

If the Chinese reaction remains mild as anticipated, plans are under way for major increases next year in U.S. military sales and cooperation with Taiwan, which has been hampered by constant protests from Beijing regarding all military relations with the island.

The latest arms package is limited to upgrading Taiwan’s 145 F-16 A/B model jets sold in the 1990s and did not include 66 new F-16 C/Ds.

On the list of new measures are:

• Launching a series of military visits by Navy warships and Air Force jets to the island nation. Currently, the Pentagon will not fly military aircraft to Taiwan for more than a few hours, and ship visits were curtailed to avoid upsetting Beijing.

U.S. military support for disaster relief in Taiwan in August 2009 did not rile China, and thus more formal ship and aircraft visits are being planned.

• Selling Taiwan new F-35B short-take off and vertical-landing jets. New F-35Bs for Taiwan are said to be one of the recommendations yet to be released in a Pentagon study of Taiwan’s air power.

Chinese government officials have been inquiring in Washington whether the F-35B sales are possible, U.S. officials said.

• Helping Taiwan build diesel electric submarines for anti-submarine warfare. The Pentagon is looking at ways to help Taiwan with design data and components for submarines that currently are no long made by U.S. defense contractors.

• Conducting joint exercises with the Taiwanese military, including the temporary dispatch of U.S. Army Patriot anti-missile systems, as well as other joint naval and air exercises. Currently, Taiwan’s Patriot batteries are unable to communicate with U.S. anti-missile interceptors, and the exercises would help link them to U.S. defenses.

• Reversing this year’s decision not to sell new F-16 C/Ds and perhaps sell more than the 66 aircraft that were under consideration.


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