New arms deal likely before end of Obama’s term

By Nadia Tsao  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Wed, Oct 05, 2016 - Page 3

The US might approve an arms sale package to Taiwan before US President Barack Obama’s term expires in January next year, Deputy Minister of National Defense Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) said yesterday.

Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, Lee said it was likely that the Obama administration might sell weapons and defense systems to Taiwan in addition to ammunition.

The Obama administration might notify the US Congress of an arms deal package to Taiwan in December, which would mainly include ammunition, US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said on Sunday.

However, Lee, who led a Taiwanese delegation to the conference, said that if there is a weapons deal, then there should be a “breakthrough” in the list of weapons to be procured by Taiwan.

“It is not suitable for me to speak for the US government, but according to my understanding, another arms deal is possible, and it will be more than ammunition. There will be weapons and systems,” Lee said.

This year’s conference, which sees the largest US participation since it was first held in 2002, focuses on how Taiwan can get American defense industry invovled in R&D, technology transfer and other cooperation in indigenous programs such as jet fighters and submarines.

Given plans to domestically develop aircraft and submarines, it is important to procure advanced weapons that the nation cannot develop on its own, Lee said.

“What matters is the precision and sensitivity of the defense technology, rather than the weapon types and procurement costs,” the deputy minister said.

In terms of weapons platforms, the US has offered to sell four Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, and Taiwan would only procure two, he said.

“In my nearly 40 years of experience in the military, I have never seen the government invest so much in the defense industry, especially in developing domestic aircraft and vessels,” Lee said.

Lee said the government is determined to show its resolve in building the defense industry in this year’s conference.

Although the government places great importance on the domestic defense industry, Taiwan depends on arms sales to obtain weapons it cannot develop and to maintain a stable high-level communication mechanism with the US, Lee said.

Lee said he has repeatedly asked for US support to build submarines, which act as powerful deterrents.

It is not absolutely necessary for the US to sell submarines, as what Taiwan needs the most is technical support, and while he can see the willingness from American counterparts to offer assistance, it is concerned that the result of the US presidential election might change Taiwan-US relationships and they have to rebuld the high level contacts from the scratch, he said.

To allay potential investors’ concerns over Taiwan’s defense policy, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), a member of the delegation, said it is a misconception that Taiwan plans to develop 100 percent locally built aircraft and vessels, and the nation welcomes cooperation with US weapon manufacturers.

However, possible partnerships between Taiwan and US manufacturers depend on the US government’s attitude, as it involves US policy on arms exports, Lo said.

Additional reporting by CNA