The comments by Raymond Burghardt to a U.S. business group in Taipei will likely anger China, which claims Taiwan as its own and considers any American defense relationship with Taipei as interference in its internal affairs.
Burghardt is the chairman of the American Institute on Taiwan, the de facto U.S. Embassy established in 1979 when Washington transferred its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. He splits his time between Washington and the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu.
Defense links between the U.S. and Taiwan constitute "an intimate relationship," Burghardt said. "There is interaction every day," he added, specifically mentioning military training and intelligence sharing.
Burghardt said the Obama administration has yet to make a decision on Taiwan's requests to upgrade its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 A/B jet fighters and to procure the more advanced F-16 C/D model. But he insisted the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship "is so much more than the sale of arms."
"We haven't said yes or no" on the F-16s, Burghardt said.
Burghardt's remarks on close U.S.-Taiwan defense ties coincide with heightened Chinese concern about the U.S. role in Asia, including Washington's commitment to provide the island the means to defend itself against a possible Chinese attack.
In late June Beijing criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assertion the U.S. sees China's offshore territorial disputes with a number of Southeast Asian countries as a matter of American national concern. It has also consistently lambasted the provision of American weapons systems to Taiwan.
The island split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, and despite Washington's transfer of diplomatic recognition, remains Taiwan's most important defense partner.
Over the past decade or so its average annual imports of U.S. arms have been valued at more than $1 billion.