Sat, Sep 17, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Washington blunt on arms purchase

STRONG LANGUAGE Participants at a congressional hearing urged Taiwanese lawmakers to sort out their party squabbles and pass the special weapons budget

BY CHARLES SNYDER  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Participants at a hearing on Capitol Hill concerning the military balance in the Taiwan Strait slammed the Legislative Yuan for its failure to approve a special budget to buy US submarines and other weapons, warning that the action could imperil US forces in any future blow-up in the Strait and hurt the US' strategic position in the East Asian region.

The hearing before the congressionally-established US- China Economic and Security Review Commission is expected to play a key role in formulating the Taiwan section of the commission's annual report to Congress on China's military position and its impact on US security interests in East Asia.

The State Department's top expert on China affairs, James Keith, said that the administration "wants results" on legislative approval of the arms package, which has been blocked repeatedly by the opposition in the legislature.

Dismissing explanations from Taiwanese politicians about the reasons for the failure of the legislature to pass a special budget, Keith said the Bush administration is "not interested" in the "ins and outs or the intricacies of domestic politics" in Taiwan.

"From our perspective, this has become an issue that requires results, and requires whatever it takes in terms of the ruling party and the opposition parties coming together to produce positive results," he said.

"Political leadership is necessary, regardless of party, regardless of position in or out of power. It's time to get this done," said Keith, who recently took over as special advisor for East Asia in the department, after having served as consul general in Hong Kong.

Commission member Thomas Donnelly blasted the pan-blue camp.

"The precarious balance of political power in Taiwan has handicapped the island's efforts to stiffen its defenses as China's threat has escalated," he said.

"The opposition party in Taipei sometimes seems to place its own desire to rule above the nation's desire to remain free," he said.

Representative Rob Simmons painted a grim picture of China's military threat to Taiwan and US forces in the Pacific if the Legislative Yuan fails to approve the special budget for eight submarines and 12 P-3C maritime-patrol aircraft, as well as the purchase of other US weaponry.

He told the commission that Beijing has acquired Russian anti-ship cruise missiles that can travel at speeds up to 230km per hour, specifically designed to sink US aircraft carriers.

Driving the message to Taiwan home, Simmons said, "If another global war breaks out, the most powerful weapons will be submarines. The proliferation of cruise missiles and rockets aboard torpedoes make ships especially vulnerable in modern naval contests."

"The US and Taiwan must understand this reality if they're to safely deter aggression," he said.

Simmons represents Connecticut's second congressional district, which includes the Groton shipyard, which is perhaps the world's biggest manufacturer of submarines, and one of the biggest producers of US military and foreign military sales subs.

The Groton facility is likely to stand the best chance of winning the contract to build the multi-billion dollar submarine component of the special arms budget.

Turning to domestic Taiwanese politics, Simmons said, "despite the grave danger it faces, the Taiwanese may make the situation worse by failing to move forward with a much needed special budget to fund [their] critical defense requirements."

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