Sat, Dec 03, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Government must defend nation

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

Four-and-a-half years have elapsed since the Bush administration approved a robust package of weapons for sale to Taiwan. Except for the Kidd destroyers and some radar systems, the bulk of the package has been stalled in the Procedure Committee of the Legislative Yuan. The bill cannot even be put on the agenda of the legislature for discussion.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former deputy Defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz have expressed displeasure about this turn of events. When former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairwoman Therese Shaheen visited Taipei in January she said the deal was crucial in improving US-Taiwan relations -- Taiwan needed to demonstrate that it was determined to defend itself. In September, Edward Ross, a senior Pentagon official said: "As the lone superpower, our interests are plentiful and our attention short. We cannot help defend you if you cannot defend yourself."

More recently Dennis Hickey warned: "Taiwan ... should not degenerate into a pitiful spineless jellyfish ... jeopardizing national security for political gain is outrageous. Pass the arms bill now" ("Don't play games with nation's security," Nov. 19, page 8).

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) does not legally obligate the US to help defend Taiwan if the People's Liberation Army (PLA) attacks. President George W. Bush's 2001 promise to help defend Taiwan "whatever it took" has been diluted considerably since then.

The PLA has developed guided missiles specifically designed to disable US carriers. PLA naval and air forces can complicate any US effort to intervene in a Taiwan Strait conflict. Unless Taiwan demonstrates a clear determination to fight for its sovereignty, the US may decide that it is not feasible to defend a spineless Taiwan, seemingly willing to surrender its independent existence.

Aside from blocking the arms bill, the legislature has also been cutting defense expenditures for the past decade. The armed forces are stuck with increasingly obsolete equipment, such as the World War II era submarines . This state of affairs depresses morale.

Yet lawmakers have blocked the arms bill almost 40 times. By early July President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had spoken more than 80 times in support of the bill, to no avail.

In February, Chen made his infamous 10-point pact with People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong, in return for Soong's promise that the PFP would support the arms bill. But Chen was fooled. When Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took over the chairmanship of the KMT, Chen had hoped that the KMT would cease its boycott. But again he was disappointed. So why is the pan-blue camp so dead set against bolstering national defense?

There are a number of reasons. The plan-blue camp is a disloyal opposition. They want to paralyze the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government so it may not have any credible achievement to run on in the 2008 presidential election. Their mission is peaceful unification of Taiwan with China through subversion of the duly elected government.

China objects to Taiwan's purchase of US weapons. So the pan-blues obstruct the arms bill in order to undermine the people's confidence in the government, weaken Taiwan's military forces and curry favor with Beijing.

US unhappiness with this impasse is understandable but blaming Taiwan or the government is not helpful. Despite its preoccupation with the Iraq war and domestic political problems, the Bush administration must pay closer attention to the rapidly changing situation in Taiwan. Bush's goals are that there be no war in the Taiwan Strait and that neither China nor Taiwan act unilaterally to change the status quo.

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