Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Former US commander observed drills

AFP , TAIPEI

The former commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Dennis Blair, paid a low-key visit to Taiwan in April to observe the nation's biggest annual military exercise, it was reported yesterday.

Blair, who has visited China three times in the past four years, gathered first-hand information on Taiwanese combat capability while watching the Hankuang 19 exercise, a Chinese-language newspaper said.

The Ministry of National Defense declined to comment on the report.

In a dispatch from Washington, the paper said Blair, accompanied by a 20-strong US military delegation, was impressed by the performance of the military units involved in the exercise.

"He felt the armed forces fared brilliantly and their performance was better than expected," the paper quoted a source as saying.

It said the visit had reinforced the view that while China's People's Liberation Army might have the ability to wreak serious havoc on Taiwan, it would be unable to take the island.

The US has recently stepped up military exchanges with Taiwan. US President George W. Bush announced in April 2001 the most comprehensive arms package to Taipei in almost a decade, including four Kidd-class destroyers, eight diesel submarines and 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft.

That deal followed a two-year US review of Taiwan's air force and navy.

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