US lawmakers chide administration on Taiwan policy

The Obama administration denied Tuesday that its efforts to build ties with China have hurt relations with Taiwan, as U.S. lawmakers criticized the decision not to supply new F-16 fighter jets to the self-governing island.
The top diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that efforts to improve relations with Beijing have contributed to historic levels of stability across the Taiwan Strait.
But despite less tension between the longtime rivals, mainland China has continued to build up its arsenal of missiles facing the island. China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to invade should it seek formal independence.
Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike at the hearing voiced opposition to the administration decision last month only to provide upgrades to Taiwan's existing fleet of 145 F-16 planes, while deferring a request to sell 66 new planes.
Republican committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the U.S. appeared timid in the face of China, which she described as "on the march in Asia" with democratic Taiwan as its primary target. She said the administration's decision sent the wrong message to U.S. treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific region _ Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.
Top Democrat Howard Berman welcomed the upgrades _ the main part of a $5.8 billion arms package _ but said Taiwan still needed the new planes to defend itself from Chinese air force and missile squadrons "growing at an exponential rate" across the Strait.
The U.S. government is obligated under 1979 legislation passed by Congress to supply Taiwan weapons for its self-defense _ actions always opposed by China, which is set scale back military ties with the U.S., at least temporarily, in response to the latest sale.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for the Asia-Pacific, told lawmakers the administration remains committed to Taiwan's defense and the upgrades would make its existing fleet of F-16 A/B planes comparable to more advanced F-16 C/Ds it also wanted. He said the upgrades offered the "the best bang for the buck at this time."
Campbell denied consulting with China before reaching the decision, and said regular Chinese expression of unhappiness over arms sales had played no part in the outcome. He said the administration had not ruled out selling new F-16s to Taiwan in the future.
"I don't buy it," said Republican Rep. Steve Chabot. "As far as I'm concerned this administration just does not want to upset China."
President Barack Obama has sought deeper and wider ranging ties with China. Beijing has emerged as the main foreign creditor for the indebted U.S. government. The U.S. also values its military exchanges with China as a way of avoiding conflict with what is a potential challenger to decades of U.S. military predominance in the Asia-Pacific.