Tue, Oct 19, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Think tank says a new nuclear program is unlikely

DEAD END US and international pressure would likely halt any thoughts by Taiwan to make nuclear weapons -- a move that could lead to an unwinnable arms race

AFP , TAIPEI

Any attempt by the nation to acquire nuclear weapons would leave it isolated in its stand-off with China and spark a dangerous arms race, analysts said.

Such a move would risk losing the support of the US, which is obligated to help Taiwan defend itself against any invasion by China.

"I really don't think Taiwan would benefit from operating nuclear bombs," said Homes Liao (廖宏祥), a researcher of the Taiwan Research Institute private think tank. "It would not help enhance Taiwan's military strategic profile in dealing with China."

Liao's comments followed denials last week by the government that it was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

It also dismissed reports from Austria that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had uncovered evidence that the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government carried out plutonium separation experiments in the 1980s.

But David Albright, president of the Washington think tank Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), had said that in US circles "there is presently concern that Taiwan may be doing nuclear weapons planning now or thinking about it, particularly after the comment in the Taiwanese parliament."

Taiwan was forced by Washington in the 1980s to scrap its plans to develop nuclear warheads. The plan surfaced after a senior researcher was smuggled out of the country by the US, according to Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠).

Under the constraints set up by the US and IAEA, Taipei would not be able to resume a nuclear weapons research program without being caught, analysts said.

Taiwan's leaders "aren't thinking in this direction," Liao said.

Shuai Hua-min (帥化民), a retired lieutenant-general, warned of the danger of getting nuclear weapons.

"Developing nuclear weapons will only force Taiwan into an arms race with a powerful nuclear country like China. There is no return if we walk down that road," he said.

Chung Chien (鍾堅), professor of National Tsing Hua University's nuclear science department, estimated that it would cost billions of dollars to reopen the nuclear program.

"The United States strongly opposes Taiwan's efforts to develop nuclear weapons," he added.

Fears of a possible move toward nuclear arms were heightened by Premier Yu Shyi-kun's reference last month to the "mutually assured destruction" which prevented open hostilities between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

"You [China] have the capability to destroy me and Taiwan should have the capability to counter. You strike me with 100 missiles and I should at least strike back with 50," Yu was reported as saying, although he later said he was quoted out of context.

Alarmed by China's arms build-up, Taiwan's government is seeking the legislature's approval for a controversial US$18 billion special defense budget over a 15-year period beginning next year.

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