Sun, Aug 21, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan should heed US warnings

By Richard Halloran

The political leaders of Taiwan, both government and opposition, are in serious danger of misreading or ignoring the increasingly stiff warning signals coming from Washington.

In its bluntest form, the US message is: Taiwan needs to do more to prepare for its own defense against a potential attack from China rather than rely largely on the US for its security. If it doesn't, the US may be less obligated to come to Taiwan's rescue.

Publicly, that caution has been delivered by officials of the American Institute in Taiwan, by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization in Washington with ties to President George W. Bush's administration, and by the American Enterprise Institute, a more centrist think tank.

Privately, US officials said that advice had been delivered from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, by retired senior US military officers visiting Taiwan, and by US colonels who slip into Taiwan in mufti so as not to offend China as they confer with Taiwanese officers.

Said one senior officer: "Some of the investments that Taiwan would like to make are not optimized for the defense of Taiwan."

This widening rift between Washington and Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty, comes just as Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) prepares to visit Washington next month. He is expected to repeat, as all Chinese do, that the future of Taiwan is the most sensitive issue between China and the US and will undoubtedly try to widen the gap between Washington and Taipei.

Although Hu has proclaimed that China seeks to take over Taiwan by peaceable means, his government has repeatedly threatened to use military force if Taiwan declares formal independence.

The main point of contention between Washington and Taipei is a package of weapons offered by the US that includes eight diesel-electric submarines, six Patriot anti-missile batteries, 12 P-3C maritime-patrol aircraft, and other items worth US$15 billion.

The Bush administration presented that package in April 2001, but the proposal has languished in Taipei ever since. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has urged the legislature to approve funds for the purchase but the legislature, controlled by the Chinese Nationalist Party, (KMT) has refused.

The KMT has contended that some of the weapons aren't needed or they are too expensive or they aren't modern enough. Underneath it all, the KMT appears to relish opposing Chen and the DPP.

In addition, leaders of the KMT have sought to undercut Chen by visiting Beijing, where they were received like potentates of old who had journeyed from the provinces to the capital to pay tribute to the emperor.

American officers point to a steady decline in Taiwan's military spending, reductions in conscription, and a failure to adhere to high standards of training and readiness.

Command and control of joint operations was said to be particularly weak.

Lastly, recent polls have brought into question the will of the Taiwanese to resist political, economic, and perhaps military domination by China. Even so, those same polls show that a large majority of the people of Taiwan prefer to stay separate from China, even if that means remaining in a limbo where only 26 nations have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Bush sought to set a firm policy on Taiwan shortly after he came to office in 2001, saying that the US would do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.

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