Sat, May 22, 2004 - Page 1 News List

US expands defense ties with Taiwan

MILITARY EXCHANGES The US Congress passed a bill allowing senior US military officials to visit Taiwan, paving the way for greater cooperation

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US House of Representatives Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation aimed at expanding high-level military cooperation and contacts between the US and Taiwan, especially in missile defense, anti-submarine warfare and command-and-control capabilities. A parallel measure has been introduced in the Senate.

Both measures would lift the cap on the travel to Taiwan of the most senior US military officers and civilian personnel, and promote "educational exchanges" between the top officials of Taiwan and the US. The purpose, according to the two measures, would be "to improve the defenses of Taiwan against attack by the People's Liberation Army."

The three areas singled out for special attention are "fields identified by the Department of Defense where Taiwan is in most need of assistance," Ryun said in a press release.

The measure will "help make Taiwan more defensively self-sufficient, while at the same time improving its ability to fight alongside the United States in a crisis if necessary," he said.

Both the House and Senate measures are amendments to broader bills authorizing Defense Department programs for fiscal year 2005. The House approved the amendment, proposed by Representative Jim Ryun, Republican, by a 290 to 132 vote, and then approved the amended US$422 billion authorization bill, 391 to 34.

In the Senate, Senator Sam Brownback -- also a Republican -- the chairman of the East Asian and Pacific subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, proposed the measure Wednesday. But a Brownback aide could not say when and how the proposal will come up in that chamber.

The Pentagon is a strong supporter of the bills, according to congressional staffers. The bills stem from discussions between the Pentagon and the House Armed Services Committee, of which Ryun is a senior member.

"This is something the office of the secretary of defense has supported," Jim Richardson, Ryun's legislative director, told the Taipei Times. "We did this because we thought it was a good idea, and we wanted to help the Defense Department to be able to institute these programs."

The legislation is intended to circumvent efforts by the State Department and White House to stymie an earlier congressional attempt to expand high-level military-to-military cooperation between Washington and Taipei.

The Defense Department, an advocate of closer ties, wrote the report, the State Department and the National Security Council of the White House have prevented the report from being transmitted to Congress, sources say.

The report is said to call for a wide-ranging scope of interactions between the US and Taiwan defense elites in view of what many in Washington fear has been a dangerous decline in recent years in Taiwan's military preparedness to fend off an attack from China.

The House and Senate bills would allow exchanges that focus on threat analysis, military doctrine, force planning, logistical support, intelligence collection and analysis, operational tactics, techniques and procedures, and civil-military relations, including legislative relations.

The activities would include "an exercise, an event and an opportunity for observation." Such activities could take place in either Taiwan or the US.

Currently, only military officers at the level of colonel or below, or defense officials below deputy assistant secretary are allowed to go to Taiwan and deal with Taiwanese officials. The bills would eliminate that ceiling, theoretically opening the way to possible visits to Taiwan by the secretary of defense or the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and their Taiwanese counterparts.

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