TAIPEI, TAIWAN (AFP) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou Tuesday urged the United States to sell the island fighter jets to ensure its security as hopes over warming ties with China mix with apprehension about its growing might.
"Taiwan has wished to acquire the F16 C/D fighter jets as soon as possible to replace its aging F5 fleet and ensure its aerial safety," a presidential statement quoted Ma as saying.
Ma made the plea to Raymond Burghardt, the Washington-based chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, amid growing concern here that the balance of power with China is shifting in favour of the mainland.
The institute has handled unofficial ties with Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, although the United States has remained a leading arms supplier to the self-ruled island.
Taiwan applied to the US government to buy 66 F-16 fighters in early 2007, but observers say Washington has held up the deal for fear of angering Beijing.
China opposes any arms sales to Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the two sides have been split since the end of a civil war in 1949.