U.S. says seeks "right time" for Taiwan arms sales

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The U.S. is looking for the “right time” before any decision on arms sales to Taiwan, and any such move would not be swayed by China’s likely reaction, the top U.S. representative to Taiwan said on Tuesday.

Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, said that China’s “habit” of breaking off military ties following arms deals was not a factor behind the lack of U.S. approval of Taiwan’s long-standing request for advanced F-16 C/D fighter jets.

“All good things come in their own time,” Burghardt told reporters at a briefing during a visit to Taipei.

“The military-military relationship with Taiwan is so much more than arms sales,” he said, noting that the U.S. approved a $6.4 billion arms package last year.

Taiwan remains one of the most thorny issues in U.S. relations with China. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to achieve its goal of bringing the self-ruled Taiwan into its fold.

The United States maintains support for Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act that obliges it to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons.

While economic ties between China and Taiwan have reached their closest in their 60-year standoff, political ties remain sensitive. Beijing has as many as 1,900 missiles aimed at the island, while Taiwan recently revealed that it is developing missiles that can hit mainland cities.

But the recent state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington raised concern in Taipei that the island’s security interests could be damaged.

Burghardt, visiting Taiwan to brief President Ma Ying-jeou about the Hu visit, said the U.S. “purposefully constructed” the joint statement issued at the end of the visit so that it “in no way violates any of Taiwan’s interests”.

He noted that there was very little discussion of Taiwan during Hu’s U.S. visit.

Ma had earlier reiterated Taiwan’s request for the F-16 C/D jets in his meeting with Burghardt, warning that the growing military imbalance across the Taiwan Strait could dampen future engagement with China, the semi-official Central News Agency reported.

The issue of weapons had been highlighted after Taiwan conducted missile tests on the day that China’s Hu left for Washington.

The test flopped when some of the missiles missed their targets, prompting speculation that Taiwan wanted to impress on the U.S. the need for better weapons. The government denied the tests had anything to do with the Hu visit.

Reporting by Jonathan Standing, editing by Andrew Marshall