TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan said on Monday that it needs fighter jets which are more advanced than the upgraded F-16 announced by the United States, suggesting that it was dropping its bid for dozens of the aircraft.
Taipei applied in 2007 to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters, which have better radar and more powerful weapons systems than its current F-16 A/Bs, in response to China's perceived military threat.
Washington in September, 2011 said it had agreed to upgrade Taiwan's 146 ageing F-16 A/Bs in a US$5.85 billion (S$7.2 billion) deal but it held off on the sale of new jets.
Taiwan's Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu said for the first time on Monday that Taipei will not necessarily take the deal even if Washington gives the nod.
"Our demand has changed following the announcement of the upgrade project. The jet fighters we buy in the future have to outperform the F-16 upgrades if we (are) to convince the tax payers," he told parliament.
Analysts said the remark marks a key shift in Taipei's approach to the arms deal that has apparently been held off due to Washington's concerns about reaction from Beijing.
"To some extent, this is a signal that Taiwan no longer wants to continue with the F-16 deal," Mr Kevin Cheng, editor-in-chief of the Taipei-based Asia-Pacific Defence Magazine, told AFP.
"The military is not likely to want everything while facing a budget constraints. Now the deal is like a chicken rib, which is of little value, considering the air force's long-term demand."
Although the upgrade package was less than Taiwan had hoped for, it triggered an angry response from China, which warned that Sino-US military ties would be hurt as a result.
Taiwan has ruled itself since 1949, but China still considers the island part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to invade should Taipei declare formal independence.
The Chinese military is gaining a decisive edge over Taiwan, but US arms sales to the island make China's superiority less crushing than it otherwise would be.