Background Briefing: Notification to Congress on the Sale of Arms to Taiwan

Special Briefing
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
September 21, 2011

MODERATOR: Well, thank you. Thanks to all of you for joining us on such relatively short notice. We’re very fortunate to have with us this afternoon two individuals, [Senior Administration Official One] as well as [Senior Administration Official Two]. As you know, they’re here to discuss today’s notification to Congress on the sale of arms to Taiwan. This is going to be a briefing on background, so they’ll – from now on, they’ll be known as Senior Administration Official One and Senior Administration Official Number Two.

I’ll, without further ado, hand it over to Senior Administration Official Number One to talk a bit, and I think [Senior Administration Official Two] will have something to say, and then we’ll open it up to your questions.

Go ahead, [Senior Administration Official One].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, thanks. We’ll I’d just make a few quick comments to provide a little context to the arms sale, which is really the longstanding bipartisan commitment in the United States to the security of Taiwan, which is a close friend of the U.S. And it’s part and parcel of the efforts by the Obama Administration to strengthen ties with Taiwan across a number of boundaries – trade, energy, people-to-people, so on – as well as our efforts to help ensure that Taiwan’s voice is heard in relevant international fora.

The fundamental principle here is that the preservation of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is very much in the strategic interests of the United States and of our allies and partners, and that the very considerable progress in cross-strait ties over the past couple of years through diplomacy and dialogue, in our view, has been a major contributor to that stability in the region. And it’s something that the U.S. supports and we’ve made our support known clearly to parties on both sides of the strait.

We firmly believe that our support for Taiwan’s legitimate defense needs is conducive to stability across the straits, and now that there has been a notification to Congress, I think that it’s time to talk about what we are doing, and what we’re actually doing and why, not about what we’re not doing.

I think that I would add also that the decision that was notified to Congress today is smart defense policy that makes a real and immediate contribution to Taiwan’s security.

I’ll stop there and ask my esteemed colleague, Senior Administration Official Number Two, to speak.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, [Senior Administration Official One], and good to have you all with us this afternoon. We were both up at the United Nations just a little while ago. President Obama met with new Japanese Prime Minister Noda and has had a series of other interactions with Asian friends. This is part of our – if you will, our pivot as we focus more of our strategic attention on the Asian Pacific region; as we responsibly draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan, greater focus on our security alliances, our partnerships, new players in Asia like China, India as it looks east in greater engagement in Asia; and obviously, Indonesia. We’re also actively engaged in strong attempts to get the Korea Free Trade Agreement passed, that’s part of a larger economic agenda, and we are involved in a very substantial effort towards repositioning our global force posture, which will include some important changes that will sustain the American military (inaudible) and disperse them in the Asian Pacific region.

On Taiwan, just to build on what [Senior Administration Official One] has said, I would just like to give you a few of the details. The Obama Administration, under the Foreign Military Sales program – that’s the FMS program – this morning notified the Congress of the sale to Taiwan of a package of arms totaling $5.85 billion. And this package includes the retrofitting for 145 of Taiwan’s F-16 A/B fighter jets, and that includes new radars, capable weapons systems, and structural upgrades. And the total cost of that aspect of the package is about $5.3 billion. There will be a five-year extension of the F-16 pilot training program at Luke Air Force Base, and that totals about $500 million. And then we will also be providing aircraft spare parts for helping to sustain Taiwan’s fleet of F-16s, its F-5s and C-130 cargo craft. And the total package of these spare parts is about $52 million. So a total, again, of about $5.85 billion.

Now, as [Senior Administration Official One] has indicated, these sales will make an immediate and significant contribution to Taiwan’s air defense capabilities, because in doing so we will be upgrading the backbone capability of Taiwan’s air force. The retrofit program will provide a substantial increase in the survivability, the reliability, and the combat capabilities and effectiveness of Taiwan’s 145 F-16 As and Bs. In doing so, this will help ensure that Taiwan maintains the capability to protect its airspace in both peacetime and during a crisis.

It is our firm belief that this sale is a clear demonstration of the commitment of this Administration following past commitments of previous administrations to sustain and improve Taiwan’s defense capabilities, and that is commensurate with the Taiwan Relations Act. With this sale, in less than two years, the Obama Administration has sold over $12 billion in arms to Taiwan. This is comparable or greater than at any other period in the history of U.S.-Taiwan unofficial relations since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act.

I need to also underscore that we believe that our arms sales to Taiwan contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and we also believe that the process of diplomacy and dialogue that has taken place in recent years between Beijing and Taiwan has been beneficial to people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits. We encourage it and we want it to continue.

And it’s also the case that no decisions have been made on selling new F-16 C/D aircraft at this time. It is still under consideration, and we are aware of Taiwan’s requests in this regard. The United States and Taiwan will continue to examine the F-16 C/D issue in the context of our discussions about Taiwan’s overall defense needs.

I think with that, we’ll open it up for questions and comments, but I do want to underscore that we won’t have very much further to offer on the Taiwan arms sales package. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official Two]. We’ll open it up to your questions now. Just a reminder to give your name and media affiliation.


OPERATOR: Thank you. To ask a question, please press *1. You may withdraw your question by pressing *2. Our first question is from Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News.

QUESTION: Yes. Hello. Thanks for having the call. Xinhua has already reported that Foreign Minister Yang in Beijing planned to call in the U.S. ambassador, Gary Locke, to protest this decision, that it would inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas. That clearly signals that they are likely to suspend military relations again, at least.

Were you – are you prepared – what have you done to prepare for this? And have you – are you aware of any military or security-related exchanges or other cooperation that have been delayed yet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: First of all, thank you for the question. Let me just say that we formally informed this morning, after submission to Congress, Chinese authorities through Ambassador Zhang in Washington. [Senior Administration Official Two] spoke with him directly, informed him of our decision and the details. He registered his government’s very firm opposition to these steps and indicated that there would be consequences for the relationship but did not specify them.

We do underscore that we believe that there has been progress in U.S.-China relations and that this is an important feature of the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region. We think that mil-to-mil relationships have improved and that these are in the best interests of both nations and both militaries. And we will be in subsequent conversations, I am sure, with the appropriate authorities in Beijing in terms of next steps.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let me just add that we, of course, are very well aware of China’s position. And one of the points that [Senior Administration Official Two] made and that other U.S. officials make regularly to the Chinese is that we are fully committed to our One China policy based on the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act. This is an approach, a consistent approach, that has provided stability in U.S.-China relations for decades and through many administrations here in the U.S.

I think the other point that I would make is that we believe that successfully managing disagreements is an essential component of the U.S.-China relationship. That is part and parcel of the constructive, positive, and comprehensive partnership that President Obama and President Hu have undertaken to sustain.

Another point, just lastly, that we make consistently and that [Senior Administration Official Two] has made to the Chinese is that, as we said earlier, we place great importance on progress in cross-strait dialogue and reconciliation, and that we commend the positive steps taken by both, and look to China to take steps also to lessen tensions through its actions.

MODERATOR: Great. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Anthony Yazaki with NHK.

Go ahead with your question, sir.

MODERATOR: NHK, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. My question’s actually already been answered. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. We’ll go on to the next question, then.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Nadia Tsao of Liberty Times.

QUESTION: Hi. My question is that Peter Lavoy mentioned in an earlier conference in Richmond, Virginia that one of the reason that U.S. might be not able to sell to Taiwan F-16 C/D is the survivability under missile attacks. So I wonder why the upgrade of F-16 A/B fit into this picture, because it will have the same problem. Missile attacks may make the survivability vulnerable.

SENIOR ADMINISRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you, Nadia. Let me just – first, I was not at the conference and I don’t know particularly what was said generally. But we judged that there was, first of all, some essential steps that were needed to maintain a strong capability of the Taiwan Air Force, and we have taken those steps. It is also the case that the strongest goal of the United States is to preserve peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. And there are many factors and features that come to play. One aspect of it, obviously, are the capabilities that are fielded by Taiwan armed forces. But it is the strong, enduring commitment of the United States to preserve peace and stability in the Western Pacific, and that remains unchanged and is still resolute.

I can’t speak any further about what Peter underscored. But we believe, at this time, the steps that we’ve taken are prudent, they are strong, they are responsible, and they are part of the very clear determination of this Administration to maintain the bonds of trust and confidence with the people of Taiwan.

MODERATOR: Thanks. We’ll take the next question now.

OPERATOR: Next question goes to Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks for doing this call. You mentioned in the beginning that nothing’s been ruled out with actually selling F-16s in the future to Taiwan. I was wondering, there’s been some criticism already on the Hill, particularly from the Republicans, saying that there should have been sales rather than an upgrade. How would you assess what’s been achieved today militarily by this upgrade in terms of what this would do for Taiwan’s defense versus what the effects would have been of selling new F-16s?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Look, we are at the State Department and the White House, and so I’m not going to get into a war gaming scenario where I exceed my capabilities and knowledge here. But I will say, it is our belief that we are going to be able to get greater capabilities more rapidly in a larger number of airplanes into the field in a more decisive way in this context, again, without ruling out any future sales. And I would say that in any circumstance this was a necessary step to take overall.

What was your second question – I’m sorry – the second part of it? I apologize.

OPERATOR: One moment.


OPERATOR: Go ahead with your second part, sir.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I apologize. I didn’t write – I should have written it down, the second part of your question, sir.

MODERATOR: Shaun, go ahead. Well, maybe we should just move on. If Shaun gets his second part together, we’ll go back to him. But we’ll go ahead and take the next question.

OPERATOR: The next question is from Richard McGregor, Financial Times.

QUESTION: Hi. The deputy Taiwan defense minister said – was quoted by Taiwan CNA the other day saying that Taiwan, or he, was interested in F-35s. Has that been communicated to the Administration at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Look, we – as we have stated clearly, we have a very robust unofficial relationship between the United States and Taiwan. We have a number of venues in which detailed defense issues are discussed: air defense issues, missile-related issues, naval, cyber, and the like. I’m not going to get into the details of what’s been discussed in other venues.

I will simply say that we have worked closely with our Taiwan interlocutors about this particular package. And I would refer you to the comments that are being issued officially today out of Taipei, which underscore quite clearly from the very top levels of the Taiwan Government their appreciation, first of all, for the sale; their belief that these meet the essential requirements of Taiwan; and that overall as a part of a broader set of engagements, including our determination to get the Visa Waiver Program and a variety of other steps on people-to-people and economic engagement, that they are pleased with the progress of unofficial and other ties between the United States and Taiwan. Both sides are very clear that we have not ruled out F-16 C/Ds. But at this time, we thought that this was the appropriate way to go forward.

And I would simply, to put it into context, we underscore that this is part of a bipartisan commitment. But if you look and compare the – what was provided, for instance, in the previous Administration, what has been provided by the Obama Administration, essentially, we have provided twice the amount in half the time. And that is a substantial commitment. And I don’t think it’s fair to turn this into a partisan issue, as some have suggested. Our commitment is strong and unwavering and we believe consistent with the best traditions of bipartisan support to Taiwan and the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

MODERATOR: Thanks. We have time for a few more questions. We’ll take the next question now.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from John Zang with CTI TV.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this. I have a two-part question. The first part, Taiwan senior officials have gone out of their way to express appreciation, not a word of disappointment at not having the C/Ds. Have any of you told Taiwan to focus only on the positive, not the negative?

Part two, have you had any informal discussion with Chinese officials prior to this, just to give them a heads-up? Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: First of all, let me just state clearly, it’s extremely important, on this second question that the United States abides by what we call, informally, the six assurances. And one of the most important parts of the six assurances is that we do not consult with China beforehand informally, formally or otherwise, about defense sales. And so today’s discussion between [Senior Administration Official Two] and Ambassador Zhang was the only, and indeed the first, communication between the United States and China on these matters.

Look, the truth about Taiwan is that one of the things that unites us is that we are robust, rollicking democracies with a rough-and-tumble press and a fairly tough public discourse. I can assure you that we’ve had appropriate discussion with Taiwan friends. They know the extent to which we work with them, and I think their statements stand clearly. And all I would simply say is that you will see in other circumstances criticisms of the United States and questions about various aspects of our policy. But I think the statements today stand for themselves and speak clearly to the strength on the essential part of our relationship, the essential part, which is the strong commitment by the United States to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let me add, if I could, that I think that the questioner points to something significant, which is that it makes sense to differentiate between the chatter that’s been going on against the backdrop of rumors and statements coming out of Taipei in the wake of official and an announced decision by the Obama Administration to notify this retrofit package to the Congress.

Frankly, I think in light of the robust and intense dialogue among the security and defense experts has been ongoing and has the responsibility for making assessments about Taiwan’s needs, that it would be surprising if there weren’t these statements of appreciation and support for what, as I said earlier, is actually a very smart defense policy. Because as [Senior Administration Official Two] explained, this is not only an unprecedented set of sales in support of Taiwan’s defense, but it makes an immediate and real contribution to Taiwan’s security. The upgrade, the retrofit of these planes provides top-quality fighters to Taiwan, which Taiwan gets quickly and at a reasonable price, and in large numbers. So I think this is a very positive development from Taiwan’s perspective.

MR. TONER: Thank you. Last two questions. We’ll go with the second-to-last now.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from William Wan with Washington Post.

QUESTION: Thanks so much for doing this. So first of all, I’m hearing a lot of pushback on the argument that the A/B’s retrofitting is just as good as brand-new C/Ds. I guess the counterargument to that that I’m hearing is that airpower is a numbers game, they’re losing planes with the F-5s and the mirages, they need new planes to replace those just to maintain the airpower they have, not even to keep up with China.

And secondly, on the C/Ds, if you haven’t made a decision on that, is it – is there a decision that’s still planned to be announced before October 1st? Or does the Administration see the sales act – this arms sale as already having fulfilled that promise to resolve that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: William, as you can imagine, we do not discuss in any details timing or content – future arms sales. So I will have nothing further to say about that, but I can tell you about this particular arms sales. I don’t – personally, I’d listen carefully to [Senior Administration Official One] and myself, and I don’t think anyone has said, quote-quote, “This is as good as the F-16 C/Ds.”

This is different. We believe that this set of upgrades for the 16 – F-16s, As and Bs, was necessary, it was important, it does give them much greater capability and much greater reliability. And at the end of this process, they will have a much, much more capable air force going forward. It is also the case that if you look at this package, it is also meant to address critical issues in the F-5 fleet as well.

And so I think this is an important commitment. I think it speaks clearly about the American intent to maintain peace and security across the Taiwan Strait. And we acknowledge and understand clearly the nature of the larger defense forces in the surrounding region. And again, if I could just simply underscore that it is important to look at these issues in a larger context. The Taiwan Relations Act stipulates several things – consultations with Congress, the provision of necessary defense articles to Taiwan. But among, or in fact, the most important is the strong determination that the United States maintains the capability to preserve peace and stability in the Western Pacific. And that is exactly what a succession of administrations has sought to do, and the United States, under the Obama Administration, has sought to continue and to strengthen.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think that’s a good place to stop, guys. I think we need to get on to our next meetings. We really appreciate the chance to be with you today and just I’m sure folks will be following up accordingly. So thank you all very much.

PRN: 2011/1558