Thu, Sep 29, 2011 - Page 1 News List

US admiral sees ‘profound’ cross-strait disparity

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, said on Tuesday there was a “profound” disparity between the combat power of China and Taiwan, and a “tremendous gap” in capability.

It was unusual for someone of his authority within the administration of US President Barack Obama to openly concede the point.

Further, he appeared to call on Beijing to reduce the size of the force it now has facing Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait.

He said that despite improved relations between China and Taiwan under the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Beijing has maintained “very prominent combat power” across the Strait.

“Should that factor into China’s calculus in all of this? I think the answer is yes. I mean, it should,” Willard told reporters in Washington.

He said the US would be encouraged to see the degree of disparity in combat power reduced in order to continue to ease relations across the Strait.

The admiral said it was in the US’ interest that Taiwan remains defensible and that it has the “necessary capabilities and services to defend itself.”

“We think that enhances stability across the Strait and enables the ongoing dialogue that is occurring between the People’s Republic of China [PRC] and Taiwan,” Willard said. “The combat power that the PRC holds across the Strait and generally directs toward Taiwan is very significant.”

He said Beijing should consider whether or not such a large force was still needed.

Asked directly if he thought last week’s decision to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/B aircraft was sufficient to rebalance air power across the strait, Willard said it was not.

“The upgrade of F-16A/Bs is exactly the right next step to refurbish Taiwan’s air force,” Willard said. “I think it is important to recognize that Taiwan’s arms sales in and unto themselves are not going to rebalance the cross-strait elements of combat power.”

“When we look at the combat power from ballistic missiles to integrated air-missile defenses to fighter aircraft and much more that exists across the Strait, arms sales are not going to achieve a balance or rebalance of that,” he said.

He said US arms sales were intended to provide weapons and services so that Taiwan had “an inherent ability” to defend itself.

It was important, he said, that Washington and Beijing continue to have “open and frank” discussions about disagreements — including arms sales to Taiwan — but at the same time focus on areas where the two sides can advance their relationship.

Referring to a possible move by Beijing to limit military-to-military relations with the US as a protest at the latest arms sale, Willard said he was hopeful that China would recognize the need to maintain “strategic-level discussions.”

“There are too many important security issues dealing with the Asia-Pacific region and dealing with the world to allow any single disagreement between governments to stop consultations altogether,” he said.

Willard said the past year had been “pretty good” in terms of meetings and discussions between senior US and Chinese officials, and that he thought this would continue despite the latest arms deal with Taiwan.

In related developments, Geng Yansheng (耿雁生), spokesman of China’s Ministry of National Defense, said yesterday that “in light of the serious damage resulting from the US arms sale to Taiwan, planned China-US military exchanges, including high-level visits and joint exercises, will definitely be impacted.”

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