Army deniesPhilippine landing zone

SECOND-STRIKE CAPABILITY: Chief of the General Staff General Tang Yao-ming says that there is no plan to base planes in the Philippines should China launch an air attack against Taiwan, despite reports


Fri, Jun 02, 2000 - Page 1

Chief of the General Staff General Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) yesterday denied media reports that Taiwan is seeking agreement from the Philippines to land fighter planes on its territory if China should attack Taiwan -- a move aimed at retaining a second-strike capability against the Chinese.

"Taiwan's air force does not maintain any secret or publicly known bases in foreign countries. But it does have a second-strike capability," Tang said at his first appearance at the legislature's Defense Committee following the March 18 presidential election. Tang was responding to inquiries from lawmakers over the reported plan to fly planes to a safe destination to avoid initial attacks and then use those aircraft to reinforce a second strike -- much like Iraq did during the 1992 Gulf War where it sent planes to neighboring Iran to avoid being destroyed by US-led allied forces.

Despite Tang's denial, sources speaking on customary anonymity told the Taipei Times that the government is in fact planning to make such a request to the Philippines as part of the terms for the continuing civil aviation talks between the two sides.

"The Philippines is not the only choice for the air force in this matter. There are several other choices on the list. We don't know which country will be our final choice. But the groundwork will have been laid in advance of any eventuality," said the source.

Tang also made reference to the acquisition of new short- and medium-range surface-to-surface missiles which analysts expect will be brought into operation in the next few years, greatly enhancing the military's current arsenal.

DPP lawmaker Li Chih-hsiung (李慶雄) asked Tang what the budget for such hardware would be over the next fiscal year, but the general skirted the issue, only saying that discussions of that nature would be best discussed out of the public eye.

Meanwhile, Tang shed some light on the military's plans to build its own surface-to-surface missiles.

"The cost for these missiles is very high. Each short-range missile costs around NT$20 million, while a medium-range one can run as high as NT$30 million. The operational cost for all the missiles will be billions of NT dollars," he said.

With the continuous modernization of the armed forces, Tang assured lawmakers that Taiwan still enjoys an advantage over China in its conventional warfare capability, although it is weaker in space and high-tech sectors.

Tang also conceded that there are some serious problems with the armed forces, especially in respect to the shortage of specialized personnel.

"The kinds of personnel which the armed forces are short of include non-commissioned officers [NCOs], officers at the level of captain, pilots, and company leaders in the army," Tang said.

"This personnel shortage is one of the most serious problems hampering the progress of the military's build-up. One of the major factors for the situation is the relatively low rate of pay," he said.

"The pay for an enlistee is obviously lower than that for a police officer or a public servant. If the salary for a serviceman is raised by 50 percent and the armed forces are still short of people, I will step down to take responsibility."

Lawmaker Wang Tien-ging (王天競) of the People First Party disagreed with Tang's assessment that salary was the main problem in the armed forces, saying that a serviceman's sense of honor and duty to his country should make up for the lack of pay.