The government of Taiwan said it will follow through on its commitment to purchase F-16 jet fighters from the U.S., despite fears that such a transaction would anger Mainland China.
"The defense ministry has constantly appealed to the U.S. to sell the F-16 C/D jets through various channels. Our determination to maintain self-defense has never changed," the Taipei government said in a statement.
Taiwan initially applied to acquire 66 aircraft from the U.S., reportedly to deter China, however, Washington has apparently postponed closing the deal out of concerns for Beijing.
There were also other reports that Taiwan itself wasn’t overly eager to purchase the planes out of anxiety over Beijing’s reaction.
The matter came to a head in late June when two Chinese Sukhoi-27 fighter jets entered Taiwan airspace allegedly in pursuit of a U.S. reconnaissance surveillance aircraft over the island nation. The Chinese airplanes later backtracked.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s government subsequently defused tension over the provocative act by saying it was only a "routine training mission."
Beijing has since demanded that the U.S. cease flying spy planes near its coast, citing that such acts have "severely harmed" the relationship between the two countries.
"We demand that the United States respects China's sovereignty and security interests and takes concrete measures to boost a healthy and stable development of military relations," a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry to the Global Times, a state-owned newspaper.
However, Washington doesn’t appear to be swayed by Beijing’s demands.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, said: "The Chinese would see us move out of there. We're not going to do that, from my perspective. These reconnaissance flights are important."
American spy flights near China created a major standoff in 2001 when a US plane collided with a Chinese aircraft near Hainan island, killing the Chinese pilot. In response, China detained the crew of the US plane crew for 11 days.
Moreover, the U.S. remains a top supplier of arms to Taiwan, which present a thorn to China’s side. Beijing was outraged last January when Washington said it entered into a $6.4-billion arms deal with Taiwan – a transaction that included Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and parts/equipment for Taiwan's existing F-16 fleet.
A decision on this proposed sale will come in October.
Although Taiwan has been self-governing since 1949, China considers it part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to take it over by force.