Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 3 News List

US refuses to concede arms sale freeze

CAUSE FOR CONCERN An expert said that the suspension of weapons sales to Taipei by Washington would serve as a signal that US influence was on the decline

By Charles Snyder and Shih Hsiu-Chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN WASHINGTON AND TAIPEI

The US State Department on Thursday refused to concede that the administration of US President George W. Bush has imposed a freeze on arms sales to Taiwan, despite confirmation by the top commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, that the freeze is “administration policy,” and the fact that for the first time in history, the administration has not announced any planned sales to Taiwan this year.

The US “faithfully implements the Taiwan Relations Act,” is all a State Department official would say.

The act requires the US to supply Taiwan with sufficient weapons systems to fend off a Chinese attack. It also requires that the decision be based solely on Taiwan’s needs, not politics or US foreign policy considerations.

Many critics of the administration’s freeze have said that its actions violate that law’s requirements.

The State Department official refused to be identified because the Bush administration forbids department officials to be quoted because of its policy of secrecy toward Taiwan issues.

The official refused to comment on Keating’s revelation.

“I cannot comment specifically on Admiral Keating’s remarks,” she told the Taipei Times.

Meanwhile, reaction in Washington to Keating’s confirmation that the freeze exists centered on criticism of Bush and his administration for denying Taiwan the weapons it needs to defend itself from attack by China.

John Tkacik, a senior fellow and Taiwan expert at the Heritage Foundation, which hosted Keating when he made his remarks, called the freeze a “tragedy.”

“It is a demonstration of China’s growing power in Asia, and it will serve as a signal to many in the region that America’s influence is destined to wane,” he said.

“The Bush administration is, in effect, telling democratic Taiwan that it can expect no material, or even moral support from the United States as Taiwan attempts to negotiate a new relationship with communist China,” he said.

Tkacik, a long-time supporter of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in their drive for Taiwanese independence, supported President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in the current US-Taiwan arms standoff.

Ma, he said, “has pledged to improve Taiwan’s relations with China, but even he understands that to deal with Beijing, he must be in a position to negotiate from strength. That strength means that Taiwan must have a credible military force and must have a solid security relationship with the United States,” Tkacik said.

Defending the State Department’s position, a department spokesman would say only that “there is an internal interagency process for the US government to consider all military exports, including sales to Taiwan. When the interagency process achieves the final decision for any specific arms sales, we do notify Congress.”

“We don’t comment on specific weapons systems under consideration, but we faithfully carry out the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act,” the department official said.

In related news, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday called on the US government to resume arms sales to Taiwan as the nation needs the weapons to enhance its national security and to build a sound defensive capability to use as leverage in negotiations with Beijing.

A combination of factors, including the easing of cross-strait relations, disagreements on the arms deal between US officials and the approaching US presidential election may have contributed to freeze, Wang said, adding that he wished the US could sort out whatever the problem was.

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