Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Sources say US-Taiwan ties `normal'

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US State Department and Taipei Times sources have contradicted Minister of National Defense Lee Jye's (李傑) assertion that the US has suspended military contacts with Taiwan in retaliation for the Legislative Yuan's failure to move a US arms procurement deal forward.

"No. There is no change in US policy regarding Taiwan security," the State Department said in a statement responding to a question by Taiwanese reporters about whether the US had suspended military exchanges to retaliate against the failure of the arms deal to make progress.

Sources confirm that a single routine meeting had been postponed, but that the delay was decided before the latest legislative delay in the arms deal and before American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young's comments last week urging quick passage of the arms package.

There was no word as to why the meeting, reportedly a Washington session involving the defense ministry's Armaments Bureau, was delayed.

The sources said that a number of other bilateral military exchanges continue to go on as planned, pointing to reports that a group of senior US defense officials are currently in Taipei on an unannounced visit.

"There is so much going on [militarily between Taiwan and the US]," one source said after discussions with current and former US officials, "that one postponement is just a blip that doesn't represent anything. It is not a symbolic act."

US officials are said to be frustrated over the fate of a NT$6.2 billion supplemental arms bill, but still believe that the measure will be passed by year end. They see the current legislative deadlock as a result of infighting among the pan-blues in advance of the Dec. 9 mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung, and feel progress will be made on the bill after the ballot.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is being "beaten up" by People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong's (宋楚瑜) decision to run for Taipei mayor, and the KMT consequently does not want to move the arms bill now, some US officials believe.

After the election, and especially if KMT candidate Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) wins in Taipei, US officials believe "with Soong out to pasture, Ma will be able to get his people together to do something" to get the arms bill passed, according to one source, who requested anonymity.

At his daily press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated for the third time in a week that Young did not say anything new about US arms policy.

"I wouldn't draw any linkage between the two," McCormack said, referring to Young's comments and the failure of the arms package to make it through the Procedure Committee and onto the Legislative Yuan's agenda.

Observers here believe that Young's remarks on the arms issue last week were aimed beyond the arms bills currently before the Legislative Yuan and at the whole issue of Taiwan's willingness to spend to defend itself.

As for Young's harsh words, "the frustration level [in Washington] is so high that they are willing to say things they would not say in the past," one source said.

Meanwhile, the pro-Taiwan Heritage Foundation warned that stalemate on the arms bill could seriously incapacitate Taiwan.

"The refusal of Taiwan's legislature to move ahead with the arms package is a leading indicator of where Taiwan's politicians see Taiwan's future. There is little sense in America's continued support of Taiwan's defenses if Taiwan has no intention of using them to deter attack by the Chinese,” Heritage Foundation senior research fellow John Tkacik and Asian Studies Center director Michael Needham wrote in a paper about the issue on Tuesday.

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