Fri, Nov 03, 2006 - Page 3 News List

See arms bill from US angle, Alaskan senator says

Recent events have moved US-Taiwan relations to center stage following American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young's comments last Thursday urging the legislature to pass the long-stalled arms procurement plan. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chairwoman of the US Senate Subcommittee on East-Asian and Pacific Affairs, visited Taipei this week. She sat down with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Ko Shu-ling on Wednesday to shed some light on the situation

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US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska gestures during an interview yesterday with the ``Taipei Times'' during her trip to Taipei this week. Murkowski is chairwoman of the US Senate's Subcommittee on East-Asian and Pacific Affairs.

PHOTO: LU CHUN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: What is the purpose of your visit?

Murkowski: Twofold. I'm serving on the foreign relations committee in the United States Senate, and on that committee I'm chairman of the subcommittee on the Far East and Asian Affairs.

I have had an opportunity to visit Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo this year. I'm trying to get around to all parts of the region. Until now I have not been to Taiwan in my capacity as senator. I have been here before, [but] it was many years ago.

I am traveling with, [for] at least a short portion of the trip, a group of Alaskans with the Taiwan-Alaska Trade Commission tactic group. They will sign several memorandums of understanding ... [on] fisheries issues, forest products issues and energy issues. This is furthering a longstanding relationship between my state of Alaska and Taiwan.

TT: The timing of your visit seems unusual. On Thursday, Director Young made frank remarks about the arms procurement package, and now you show up.

Murkowski: The timing is absolutely coincidental. I can guarantee you that, and I smile because I visited China and Korea in January. It was right at the time that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il was moving from North Korea possibly into China. And we were joking that my appearance was somehow related or coincidental to that.

So I can guarantee you that I had no knowledge of what Mr Stephen Young was going to say on Thursday. This arms procurement package has been out there for some time.

I do think that it is somewhat fortuitous, though. I have an opportunity to meet with President Chen [Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Wednesday]. I have also had an opportunity to meet with several others [including Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday], discussing the importance of the arms procurement package.

Obviously it is an opportunity for me as a member of Congress to express once again the United States' position. I probably won't do it in as open and direct manner as Mr Young, but I think it is important to be able to help reinforce the message of the United States that we do believe that this is important for Taiwan and for the national security to act on.

TT: As you just mentioned, the arms procurement plan has been disputed for some time. Why is the US government applying a great deal of pressure right now, right before the mid-term elections?

Murkowski: I think that is a good and legitimate question to ask. I ask the same [question] myself, but I think we also recognize that there are activities taking place here in Taiwan now. You've got your elections coming up in December. You've got two different elections coming up the following year.

I'm not certain if it's absolutely the case here, but in the United States it seems the closer we get to elections, the more difficult it is to really grapple with major policy issues, because politics gets in the way. I have a tendency to believe that Taiwan probably is much like the United States in that regard.

If that is in fact the case, it is just very politically charged right now because of the elections. We recognize that, but we also recognize that this is a package that was put together by [US] President [George W.] Bush. President Bush has just two years left in his administration. We know what has been offered, but we have no idea who our next president would be. We don't know what their policies and their perspectives will be and how they might relate to Taiwan.

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