WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Taiwan has revived calls for an arms deal with the United States, saying it was crucial for the survival of the country.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said the deal was critical despite his attempts to ease relations with China.
"Taiwan is a sovereign state; we must have our national defense," Ma said. "While we negotiate with the mainland, we hope to carry out such talks with sufficient self-defense capabilities and not negotiate out of fear," Ma said.
Taiwan requested purchase of 66 F-16 fighters in early 2007. Washington, though, has held up the deal, apparently heeding concerns from Beijing.
Still, when the United States sanctioned a $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan last January, China retaliated by suspending military talks with the United States and repositioning cruise and ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan.
The January deal, also, left out F-16 fighter aircraft that the government in Taiwan had originally requested. It instead included Black Hawk helicopters, mine hunters and advanced Patriot missiles built by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949. Relations, though, have eased since the election of Ma two years ago.
Apprehension, though, still looms on both sides of the straits and Taiwan fears that the military balance in the region has tipped toward China, which recently rolled out a stealth fighter jet.
"We oppose the use of military force to resolve cross-strait disputes. However, this is not to say that we cannot maintain a military capability necessary for Taiwan's security," Ma told The Washington Post.
Senior military officials in Washington said a final decision on Taiwan's request had yet to be made.
"I think there will come a time when the Taiwan forces, be they air forces or any others, will have to be recapitalized," U.S. Navy Adm. Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters.
The United States is Taiwan's biggest arms supplier and military partner. U.S. leaders have repeatedly rebuffed allegations that their waiting game with Taiwan was linked to fears of potential response from China.
U.S. officials have long indicated that the deal would be followed by plans to gauge the design and construction of diesel-powered submarines for the island, which China deems a wayward province.
Local Taiwanese media report that the country has been developing its own missiles capable of hitting mainland China. The Taiwanese military chose to test the missiles as China's leader took to Washington for talks earlier this month with the U.S. administration.
However, the success of the ploy is in question because some missiles didn't hit their targets.