Last August I wrote in this blog that Taiwan's
long-hoped-for F-16 C/D purchase could become an election issue in the USA this year. The
recent letter from the Obama administration to Senator John Cornyn suggests
that the administration could indeed sell Taiwan new F-16s. This would be a great
way to bolster the president's tough guy foreign policy credentials and show
that he cares about jobs back home. He might even sincerely care about
That said, is it really in the interests of
to sell advanced F-16 C/Ds or, perhaps, the new F-16V to Taiwan? Such a
deal would indeed rile Beijing,
but they get upset at every US
arms sale to Taiwan,
no matter how small. Rather, the more important issue could be technology
transfer to the mainland.
Exchanges between Taiwan and China have
become increasingly close in recent years, with large numbers of direct flights
now available. Many Taiwanese seek work on the mainland, and this is certainly the
case in the aerospace sector. Inevitably, a degree of knowledge transfer occurs
Over drinks in Taipei last year a friend of mine went as far
as to outline a nightmare scenario for the US that would make for a decent spy
novel. The Chinese could cosy up to a Taiwanese pilot and offer him $10-20
million to fly his advanced variant F-16 to the mainland, where he would then
live a life of luxury.
Though the US would probably realise what
happened pretty quickly, as the aircraft would likely come with kill switches
and secret transponders, having a late model F-16 would be of immense use to China's on the
reverse engineering front.
No matter what happens, this is all great
stuff for us journos.