Thu, Feb 27, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Tang confirms US defense visit

VOYAGE The defense minister assured the press that the American official will not dictate the nation's weapons purchases, but is here to mediate between the two sides

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming, right, meets with members of the DPP's legislative caucus at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) yesterday indirectly confirmed that an US defense official is to visit Taipei early next month to talk about weapons purchases.

"The US defense official will be here not to decide for Taiwan what kind of weapons we should buy. The official is to coordinate and mediate the arms talks between the countries," Tang said.

"The final decision is still in our hands," he told reporters yesterday as he visited the DPP's legislative caucus to ask for support for defense bills to be screened in the new session of the legislature.

However, he refused to give further details about the official or the visit.

His comments followed a report in a Chinese-language newspaper, which quoted unidentified sources as saying that a female US defense official will visit next month to talk about missile defense-related issues.

The report identified the woman as Mary Tighe, director of the East Asia and Pacific region of the US Department of Defense's international affairs section. The report said Tighe would be the highest-ranking US security affairs official to visit this country since Taipei and Washington broke diplomatic relations in 1979.

Pressed by reporters for confirmation of the story, Tang refused to give details about the visitor or the subject of the forthcoming talks.

The missile defense is reportedly the major concern of the Pentagon official coming to Taipei.

The arms packages that the US has recommended to Taipei include the Patriot PAC-3 air defense missile system.

However the military has yet to decide whether to buy the system since it is a new theater missile-defense system that is still undergoing tests.

This hesitation has made the US increasingly impatient with Taipei and even suspect that the nation might not be willing to defend itself, sources said.

On Tuesday, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said that it was not true that Taiwan is counting on the US to defend it against China without being willing to pull its own weight.

"Some people say that because of US assistance, Taiwan does not have to rely on itself and can push off its responsibility to the US. This is the wrong way to go," Chen was quoted as saying.

"That we do not buy or slow down the process of buying certain weapon systems recommended by the US does not mean that we have problems. We have the right to choose what to buy and what not to buy," a defense official said.

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