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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Taiwan needs new joint strike fighters

China has announced double-digit increases in military spending for 2013, prompting a new round of commentary in Washington concerning the intent behind China's robust military modernization and Beijing's ultimate ambitions ("Red Alert: China's defense spending increases while U.S. cuts back," Web, March 5). The increase also comes amid an intensifying strategic rivalry between the United States and China in Asia, and concerns about the secrecy surrounding the Chinese defense budget.

According to the agreement, 24 Su-35 multi-role jet fighters were on China's procurement list. This latest purchase from Russia may further weaken Taiwan's qualitative advantage in military capability. At the same time, Taiwan's plans in enhancing the performance of F-16A/B fighters or procurement of F-16C/D from the United States have already fallen behind China's. For Taiwan, a move toward acquiring the F-35 makes sense given the recent U.S. decision to decline a request for 66 F-16 C/D fighters and instead, approve a midlife upgrade package for the country's 146 F-16 A/Bs.

A Pentagon study of Taiwan's air power recommends selling Taiwan the more advanced U.S. F-35 joint strike fighter. It signals that the administration knows full well the F-35 is what is needed by Taiwan. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is obligated to supply Taiwan with all necessary weapons to organize a sufficient defense. There is no question that a request for F-35 is within the letter of this law, making any sale consistent with the precepts of U.S. policy.

If the United States is serious about getting all hands on deck when it comes to bolstering security in the Asia-Pacific region and preserving the stability that has allowed Asian nations to develop at a rapid pace, the Obama administration should make F-35 available to Taiwan. Unless Taiwan buys the next-generation jet fighters F-35, Taiwan's edge in military quality may gradually disappear and China's military capability will prevail in both quality and quantity.

KENT WANG

Advisory commissioner, Overseas Chinese Affairs Council

Potomac Falls, Va.

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