Sat, Feb 14, 2009 - Page 1 News List

US Senate hears support for arms sales

BALANCE Although Taiwan’s request for 66 F-16 fighter planes was not addressed directly, the remarks come just before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Beijing

By William Lowther  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US National Intelligence Director Admiral Dennis Blair strongly indicated before a Senate committee on Thursday that Washington may sell more arms to Taiwan to maintain a balance with China.

While the admiral did not say which arms he had in mind, he was speaking only a day after former US diplomat Harvey Feldman, another Asia expert, said that US President Barack Obama’s new administration should provide the 66 F-16 fighter planes requested by Taipei.

Blair’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence came just a week before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves on a six-day trip to Asia.

China is expected to challenge Clinton on US arms sales to Taiwan when she in Beijing next Friday, but Blair’s remarks could make the issue even more important from the Chinese point of view.

Political insiders said it was unlikely the admiral would speak openly on such a delicate subject without Obama’s support.

“Taiwan should not be so defenseless that it feels it has to do everything that China says,” Blair said. “China cannot be so overwhelming that it can bully Taiwan.”

Speaking at a hearing on national security threats to the US, Blair said that China’s huge military spending increases — last year’s budget jumped 17.6 percent to about US$61 billion — “pose a threat to Taiwan.”

“Unless Taiwan does something about it, then we’re really the only other country helping them do it. That means we’re going to have to help them some more in order to maintain a balance,” he said.

Political analysts speaking on condition of anonymity said later that this last remark was a clear indication of the admiral’s support for further arms sales.

Beijing was furious last October when former US president George W. Bush announced a US$6.5 billion arms package for Taiwan.

Blair, who heads 16 US intelligence agencies, is an expert on the Taiwan-China military situation in his own right.

On Wednesday at a round table discussion at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, Feldman, who helped to write the Taiwan Relations Act, said President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government had requested another 66 F-16 fighter planes and that there was still no indication of how the Obama administration would respond.

In his testimony before the Senate committee, Blair said: “Taiwan, as an area of tension in US-China relations, has substantially relaxed. Taiwan President Ma, inaugurated in May, has resumed dialogue with Beijing and leaders on both sides of the straits are cautiously optimistic about less confrontational relations.”

“But preparations for a possible Taiwan conflict nevertheless drive modernization goals for the People’s Liberation Army and China’s security interests are broadening beyond Taiwan,” he said.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the committee, said that the China-Taiwan relationship had a very difficult dynamic and asked what the committee should keep in mind.

Blair said: “As far as what we can do, a key part of it is making sure that military measures are unattractive to all sides. And that means maintaining the balance, which is really what the Taiwan Relations Act calls for.”

“On the other hand, Taiwan has to realize that its long-term security lies in some sort of an arrangement with China. It does not lie in military defenses. So if we can keep that balance correct, then all of the incentives are toward solving the problems in political and people-to-people ways. I think there are arrangements that could be made that would give Taiwan the international space that they feel they deserve and give China the reassurance that ‘one China’ is a realistic policy,” he said.

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