Fri, Jul 26, 2002 - Page 1 News List

US officials voice doubts over military

NATIONAL DEFENSE US military officials say Taiwan should rethink its priorities in the face of an increasing military threat from across the Strait

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US Pentagon officials told a delegation of Taiwanese legislators on Wednesday that they were concerned about Taiwan's declining military budget at a time when China's military threat to the country was increasing, delegation members said.

During the briefing, US officials urged Taiwan to rethink its military budget, undertake reforms to improve its defensive capabilities against China and set clear priorities to develop those capabilities, the legislators said.

Nevertheless, the US is fully aware of Taiwan's financial problems and its budget constraints, they added.

The highly unusual briefing, on the last day of a three-day visit to Washington by 32 DPP and TSU legislators, came following the release of a Pentagon report on China's strategic posture that dealt at length with China's missile, naval and air capabilities in the Strait that appear aimed at an eventual assault on Taiwan.

The report, and Taiwan's capability to resist such a threat, was the focus of the briefing.

The delegation announced plans for an international conference on peace and security in the Asian Pacific region to be held in Taipei in January.

It will be sponsored by Taiwanese lawmakers and the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, which was formed in April to advance Taiwan's interests in the US Congress and Washington.

Legislators from more than a dozen countries in Asia and elsewhere will be invited to attend, they said.

Taiwan's ability to keep up with China's military buildup has been a common theme of the group's meetings with members of Congress, US officials and others.

"In our talks with their government, Congress and think tanks, everybody was concerned about the Pentagon report," deputy delegation leader Chou Ching-yu (周清玉) told reporters on Wednesday. "People are hoping that Taiwan will gain the self-defense capability to be strong enough to counter that threat.

"They recognized that Taiwan, as with other parts of the world, is in an economic slowdown. However, we still hope that Taiwan will move quickly to improve our capabilities, and they gave encouragement to Taiwan in that regard," Chou said.

Differences surfaced in the Pentagon discussions over the construction and financing of six diesel submarines Washington has promised to sell to Taiwan, said Ho Min-hao (何敏豪), a TSU member of the Legislative Yuan's National Defense Committee.

At issue is Taiwan's desire to have the submarines built in Taiwan, a position apparently opposed by Washington.

"The Legislative Yuan of Taiwan has already passed a budget with a plan for building the submarines in Taiwan," Ho said. "So in this regard we many have a difference of opinion with our American friends, but we were able to talk about this matter."

Senior DPP Legislator Parris Chang (張旭成), a deputy delegation leader, said he felt the submarine sale indicated a shift in US policy toward supplying Taiwan with deterrent, as well as defensive, weapons.

"The best defense is offense," Chang said. "In the past, the United States would not sell submarines to Taiwan because submarines would be considered offensive weapons.

"And now the United States wants to ... [because this would] expand Taiwan's deterrent capability. This is a very important shift in American strategy," he said. "This is certainly one very important message I feel I have learned from this trip."

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