TAIPEI (Reuters) - China has added long-range missiles near Taiwan and leads the self-ruled island in military defenses, a U.S. navy official said, suggesting that Taiwan may need new F-16 jet fighters.
China has deployed “an increasing number” of Russian surface-to-air missiles across an ocean strait about 160 km (100 miles) from Taiwan, U.S. Navy Commander Robert Willard told a Senate committee in Washington but did not give a timeframe.
“Beijing remains committed to eventual unification with Taiwan and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve that goal,” Willard said, according to a statement made available on Saturday by the U.S. Pacific Command.
“The (People’s Liberation Army’s) continued military advancements sustain a trend of shifting the cross-Strait military balance in Beijing’s favor,” he said.
A $6.4-billion U.S. arms package for Taiwan announced in January would shore up the island’s self-defense, but has enraged China.
Although Willard did not say whether Washington should grant Taiwan’s long sought request to buy F-16 fighter jets, seen as a red line in already tense Sino-U.S. ties, he said existing aircraft would “have to be recapitalized.”
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. But ties have warmed since 2008 as the two sides began to talk trade.
Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Sugita Katyal