Taiwan's bid for US jets 'hopeless': Report

TAIPEI - Taiwan's bid to buy new F-16 fighter jets from the United States has become "hopeless", a top Taiwanese official was quoted as saying in a report on Saturday.

The comments by parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who said the US had changed its mind about selling the jets, mark the first time an official has stated publicly that the long-awaited deal is expected to fall through.

It is now "all but hopeless" for Taipei to get the jets, although Washington will still help it upgrade the F-16A/Bs and provide the island other defensive weapons, Wang said in a speech on Friday, according to the report in the Taipei-based China times newspaper.

However, the defence ministry said it was still seeking to acquire the new jets.

"We will continue to push for our request to buy the F-16C/Ds and we will not give up on that," defence ministry spokesman David Lo said.

Taiwan applied to the US in 2007 to buy the 66 F-16C/Ds, improved versions of the F-16A/Bs that the island's air force now uses, claiming that the new jets were needed to counter a rising China.

US magazine Defense News reported earlier this month that Washington has told Taiwan it will not sell the jets, but at that time both US and Taiwanese officials insisted no decision had been made.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and refuses to abandon the possibility of taking Taiwan by force, even though the island has ruled itself since their split in 1949 after a civil war.

Washington recognises Beijing rather than Taipei but remains a leading arms supplier to the island.

China reacted furiously in January 2010 when the Obama administration announced a US$6.4 billion (S$7.7 billion) arms deal with Taiwan.

That package included Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and equipment for Taiwan's existing F-16 fleet, but no submarines or new fighter jets.