Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Keating impressed by visit to Taiwan

By Richard Halloran

Just after Admiral Timothy Keating retired from the US Navy as head of the Pacific Command, the largest of the US’ combatant forces, he climbed into a civilian airplane and flew to Taiwan, where he had been forbidden to visit while on active duty.

The admiral and his wife, Wanda Lee, who were guests of the government, did a bit of sightseeing during their visit last month. Then he embarked on a three-day round of meetings with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), other senior officials and top officers of the armed forces.

As serving officers, Keating and other US admirals and generals have been prohibited by successive administrations in Washington from traveling to Taiwan out of deference to the political sensitivities of Chinese leaders. The reaction in Beijing to any hint of US support for Taiwan has ranged from indignant to belligerent.

Those restrictions, plus the absence of diplomatic relations between Taipei and Washington and the lack of robust military relations that US armed forces experience in many other nations, makes first-hand observations of officers like Keating all the more useful. He has reported them to Pacific Command and the Pentagon.

“The leaders I met in Taipei repeatedly expressed a desire to see senior US active duty military officers and high level diplomats come visit Taiwan to see for themselves,” Keating said by telephone from his home in Virginia.

The centerpiece of his visit was the meeting with Ma, who spoke with him in English.

“President Ma ‘gets it,’” Keating said, “with a longer range and wider view of the opportunities for statesmanship across the [Taiwan] Strait.”

“I was surprised at the lack of rancor in discussions about China and Taiwan,” he said.

When Ma took office in May 2008, he set policy on China as “no unification, no independence and no use of force.” The first of those “three noes” meant Taiwan would continue its self-governing status quo. The second meant Taiwan would not provoke China by declaring independence while the third called on Beijing to renounce its military threat to Taiwan.

Keating said he came home convinced that “there has to be a way to resolve this dispute. We should continue to seek a solution.” He suggested, however, that he did not have a proposal.

Ma told Keating that he saw a need for four parties to resolve the 60-year-old dispute, according to US officers. The first two are the governments in Beijing and Washington because the Taiwan Relations Act requires the US to help the people of Taiwan to determine their own future.

The third party was, obviously, the government in Taiwan. The fourth, Ma said, would be the opposition parties that must have a say if a lasting solution is to be found. That was seen as a political reality in Taiwan’s evolving democracy.

Meantime, however, Keating said the government and the people of Taiwan “are acutely aware of the armaments 80 to 120 miles [129km to 193km] away,” across the Strait. China has been reported as having 1,500 missiles aimed at targets all over Taiwan.

“It’s a mismatch,” Keating said, with the Taiwanese lacking a similar force. “But they are hardly shaking in their boots.”

Keating seemed impressed with Taiwan’s forces.

“I went aboard a submarine they had acquired from the US after World War II. She was immaculate. I was taken aboard a frigate of which any US commanding officer would have been immensely proud,” he said.

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