Sat, Jan 08, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Former AIT head talks about US ties

SPEAKING OUT Therese Shaheen said that although the US relationship with Taiwan is improving, the special arms procurement deal is a stumbling block

By Mac William Bishop  /  STAFF REPORTER

The trouble really began in 2002, when some people in the US began interpreting the lack of progress over the arms budget as a sign that Taiwan was trying to "get a free ride" on defense at the US' expense, Shaheen said.

A number of people in Washington's Asian affairs community were saying that Chen was taking advantage of US President George W. Bush pledge in 2001 to "do whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan, Shaheen said. Some officials, believing President Bush's goodwill had been betrayed, quickly turned sour on Chen, Shaheen said.

Furthermore, she said the officials believed that Chen was unnecessarily provoking China, while at the same time refusing to do anything to boost Taiwan's military at a time the cross-strait military balance was beginning to shift in China's favor.

"Since the DPP came to power for the first time time in 2000, it took some time for the party to discern which aspects of the arms procurement were necessary, and which were patronage. By the time that it was clear what was needed and what wasn't, elections were approaching and the issue became a political football," Shaheen said.

`Provocations'

In response to a question about whether Taiwan was provoking China through pro-independence rhetoric, Shaheen said the statements that Chen had made had long been a part of DPP rhetoric.

This served the party fine when it was in opposition, but could be dangerous now that the DPP was the ruling party, particularly when the cross-strait military balance was beginning to shift in the PRC's favor, she said.

"[Former president] Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was much more vitriolic in terms of his rhetoric towards the PRC," Shaheen said. "So I don't understand why some people act as though Chen's rhetoric was the problem. Rhetoric alone isn't going to start a war in the Taiwan Strait. And it isn't going to stop one, either. But if you don't have a proper military deterrent, rhetoric can be dangerous.

"It is no secret that Beijing isn't impressed by weakness. You impress them by being serious, and that means having serious capabilities," she said.

"Now, Beijing has become emboldened because they don't feel they have to even cater to the pan-blues -- just look at what happened to [Taipei Mayor] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) when he tried to get a visa to go to Hong Kong," Shaheen said.

The issue now, Shaheen said, was that Taiwan had to get serious about its defense capabilities -- this is not primarily about buying weapons. In fact, the guidelines for defense priorities that the US had suggested to Taiwan were meant to try to suggest to Taiwan with the necessary systems to prevent war and enable allies to respond to any crisis in the Taiwan Strait.

Early Warning

"Many of the items on the list are systems, such as early warning radar and command and control items. We aren't talking about weapons in the traditional sense -- these systems do not kill people. Many of them are designed simply to facilitate communications and provide early warning for Taiwan," she said.

Many people in the US aren't so concerned about the content of the arms budget, but the symbolism is important, she said.

The trouble over the special budget in the pan-blue dominated Legislative Yuan has led many analysts to believe that Taiwan was not committed to its own defense, Shaheen said.

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