Fri, Aug 26, 2005 - Page 1 News List

US cancels defense meet with Taiwan

'POISONOUS ATMOSPHERE' Fears of Chinese displeasure prompted Washington to terminate this year's mini-summit with Taiwanese defense officials, sources said

BY MAC WILLIAM BISHOP  /  STAFF REPORTER

Seeking to placate Beijing ahead of next month's visit to the US by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), the Bush administration has canceled high-level annual defense talks with Taiwan, sources told the Taipei Times yesterday.

The talks, known in defense circles as the "Monterey Talks" because they take place in Monterey, California, were scheduled to be held on Sept. 13 and 14, a well-placed local source with access to the information said.

The source requested anonymity, saying that the information he was disclosing was "a bit sensitive."

The reason that the talks had been canceled was because of pressure from the Chinese leadership, which said that holding the talks would "poison the atmosphere" for Hu's trip to the US early next month, the source said, citing conversations with US officials.

Hu is scheduled to meet with US President George W. Bush on Sept. 7 in the White House. It will be the first trip Hu has made to the US since he replaced former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) as China's supreme leader.

The Monterey Talks are the highest-level security dialogue between the US and Taiwan, and have taken place every year since 1997. It is "the primary forum for addressing strategic concerns associated with the defense of Taiwan," according to one US defense expert.

"The last two meetings included bilateral war-gaming intended to facilitate coordination and reduce response time in the event of Chinese military aggression against Taiwan," the expert said.

The talks, which Taiwan's defense officials describe as "routine," are part of increasing if low-key military cooperation between the US and Taiwan. Some aspects of this cooperation -- such as Taiwan's purchase of advanced weaponry from the US -- attract a lot of political and media attention, but the bulk of US-Taiwan military ties are conducted in a more mundane and low-profile manner.

For example, hundreds of Taiwanese military personnel have -- and continue to be -- trained in the US in a variety of programs, including advanced fighter-jet combat training, special-forces qualification and a wide array of technical and specialty training regimens.

Still, the Monterey Talks are only one part of what Wendell Minnick, the Taiwan correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly and an expert in cross-strait military affairs, described as an increase in security cooperation between Washington and Taipei in the last five years.

Minnick pointed to the existence of an "emergency hotline" between Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense and the Pentagon as an example of increasingly robust military-to-military ties between the two countries.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration's cancelation of the Monterey Talks clearly angered some US defense experts.

"This is just another example of the Bush Administration's spineless policy on Taiwan, and its disregard of Congressionally mandated obligations to maintain the capacity to respond to Chinese aggression," said one academic, who asked not to be named due to his ongoing ties with US officials.

This would not be the first time that the Bush administration has bowed to Chinese pressure with regard to Taiwan.

In 2003, during the last visit to Washington by senior Chinese officials, the US president issued a public dressing-down to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), warning him not to try to change the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait. Coming as they did during the run-up to Taiwan's presidential election, many analysts interpreted Bush's comments as a direct slap at Chen, and a warning to the Democratic Progressive Party to tone down its campaign rhetoric.

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