Fri, Mar 15, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: It takes arms to keep the peace

Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming's (湯曜明) icebreaking visit to the US is an obvious encouragement to efforts toward cross-strait peace and stable development. The normalization of military exchanges between Taiwan and the US is the best way to manifest Washington's hopes of supporting peace across the Taiwan Strait. Tang's trip should reinforce the Bush administration's stance of supporting Taiwan's right to self-determination -- leaving China no maneuvering room to claim it didn't understand or stage a repeat of its 1996 missile tests in the Strait.

The cross-strait situation in the two decades since Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing has shown that the more the US leans towards China, the tenser cross-strait relations. Bei-jing's high profile has always been a stumbling block to substantial cross-strait negotiations. Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (海基會) and China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (海協會) have been idled for several years because of China's preconditions for talks -- which were partially bolstered by inappropriate China policies adopted by the US.

After returning from Florida, Tang said: "We [Taiwan and US officials] discussed how to further stabilize the Taiwan Strait." The only way Taiwan can resist any rash Chinese actions is to rely on a cross-strait military balance. US arms sales are therefore crucial. Given the rampant corruption of past arms deals, however, the question of reasonable solutions to future arms needs will be a test of the political and military astuteness of defense officials in both Taiwan and the US. Hopefully, the Taiwan officials will be able to take advantage of this opportunity to improve the nation's military advantage by moving forward with efforts to create a modern army under civilian oversight.

If Tang is able to initiate the system of civilian positions within the defense ministry that he has talked about, it will go a long way towards remedying the incestuousness that has been the hallmark of military and security decision-making for far too long. But care should be taken that too much power does not end up in the hands of one or two people, whether military or civilian.

Washington repeatedly kowtowed to Beijing in the past in an attempt to deter weapons proliferation. It tried to appease Beijing in order to persuade China to reduce weapons exports to North Korea and the Middle East. Washington's policymakers appear to have finally realized that appeasement cannot contain the flames of international terrorism. The US can no longer remain soft on the issue of weapons

proliferation.

We believe that Tang's trip to the "private" defense summit in Florida has already sent a clear message to Beijing -- that Washington hopes to put more attention into maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan has long said that it will not use military force to solve cross-strait disputes unless it comes under military attack. US assistance for Taiwan in establishing a better defense system will, in the long run, help ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the Western Pacific. Washington's renewed attention to Taiwan is to be welcomed.

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