Will Obama drop a viper in China’s lap?

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Last August I wrote in this blog that Taiwan‘slong-hoped-for F-16 C/D purchase could become an election issue in the USA this year. Therecent letter from the Obama administration to Senator John Cornyn suggeststhat the administration could indeed sell Taiwan new F-16s. This would be a greatway to bolster the president’s tough guy foreign policy credentials and showthat he cares about jobs back home. He might even sincerely care aboutdefending Taiwan.

That said, is it really in the interests ofthe USto sell advanced F-16 C/Ds or, perhaps, the new F-16V to Taiwan? Such adeal would indeed rile Beijing,but they get upset at every USarms sale to Taiwan,no matter how small. Rather, the more important issue could be technologytransfer to the mainland.

Exchanges between Taiwan and China havebecome increasingly close in recent years, with large numbers of direct flightsnow available. Many Taiwanese seek work on the mainland, and this is certainly thecase in the aerospace sector. Inevitably, a degree of knowledge transfer occurshere.

Over drinks in Taipei last year a friend of mine went as faras to outline a nightmare scenario for the US that would make for a decent spynovel. The Chinese could cosy up to a Taiwanese pilot and offer him $10-20million to fly his advanced variant F-16 to the mainland, where he would thenlive a life of luxury.

Though the US would probably realise whathappened pretty quickly, as the aircraft would likely come with kill switchesand secret transponders, having a late model F-16 would be of immense use to China‘s on thereverse engineering front.

No matter what happens, this is all greatstuff for us journos.

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