Thursday, September 22, 2011

U.S. 'no' on Taiwan arms seen as sign of China clout - 22nd Sept 2011

A U.S. decision not to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets is being seen by many U.S. allies in Asia as a sign of China's growing clout.

The pre-eminent military power in East Asia for a half-century, the U.S. has explicitly and implicitly provided a security umbrella for countries from Singapore to Japan, helping to keep the peace that has fostered stunning economic growth.

While few of these allies believe the U.S. is lessening its commitment to the region, they still see Washington's refusal to make the F-16 sale -- privately confirmed by congressional aides Sunday and then made public Wednesday -- as showing a new deference to Chinese interests.

China is a "big factor ... that can't be discounted," Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told The Associated Press. "All things are always considered in a decision and China is a world player now."

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, publicly confirmed in New York on Wednesday that the Obama administration will upgrade Taiwan's existing fleet of F-16s, postponing for now the sale of new models that Taipei sought. The decision brought a swift, angry denunciation from Beijing, where Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke to warn that exchanges between the militaries, security cooperation and overall ties will suffer.

After reducing its footprint in East Asia during the administration of President George W. Bush, the U.S. began pushing back in last year. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered strong support to Asian allies in response to their unease about a more assertive Chinese naval posture in the South China Sea, and the U.S. military conducted high-profile drills with Japan and South Korea.

But doubts about American staying power in the region persist, and Washington's refusal to sell the new F-16s to Taiwan could serve to deepen them. Read More