The US no longer makes diesel-powered submarines, so its promise to sell eight of the vessels to Taiwan -- offered by US President George W. Bush's government in 2001 -- has now become the thorniest and perhaps the most expensive arms deal in US history. The deal has caused disputes in Taiwan and within the Bush administration. Some US officials have even criticized one another.
The point is: What does Taiwan really want?
If it really must buy the submarines, it should assign manpower and resources to clarify the nation's military priorities rather than dancing to the tunes of different US departments or officials.
Taiwan needs to form a special team for the purchase, instead of solely depending on the US Navy. If it wants to negotiate the price, it should do its homework first.
In fact, US officials revealed that General Dynamics -- which is seeking to win the submarine contract -- has come up with a budget much lower than that of the US Navy International Programs Office (NIPO). But it is unwilling to pressure the navy by way of the Congress or the media because it fears losing it as a client.
As for Northrop Grumman, it has not found any foreign partners and can only re-open costly conventional-submarine production lines in the US. That's why the company supports the expensive US$11.7 billion (almost NT$400 billion) purchase plan proposed by the US Navy.
It is possible to negotiate a reasonable price with the US companies. Taiwan's leaders must take responsibility for making a decision. US officials are highly concerned about the rumor that the US has intentionally raised the price to kill the deal. Some of them have said that Taiwan has tried hard for years to buy US submarines during the annual Taiwan-US arms talks.
The US and Taiwan had discussed submarines for three years before the deal. The US began studying the possibility in 1999, and decided in 2000 that Washington should sell the diesel-powered submarines to Taipei.
After Bush came to power, the US authorities immediately briefed decision-makers on the matter. Later, the Bush administration officially announced its plan to sell submarines to Taiwan in 2001.
Today, some Taiwanese politicians have criticized Washington for forcing Taipei to buy submarines.
Such criticism is unfair to our US friends who helped Taiwan with their political and economic resources.
Another point that needs clarification is whether the purchase needs to be tied to the rescue of Taiwan's state-run China Shipbuilding. Is there no other way for the government to save the company? Not only can the submarines function in anti-submarine warfare, but they can also serve the function of strategic deterrence.
Taiwan should not confuse its priorities by sacrificing this important deal just because the US does not allow China Shipbuilding to build the submarines.
According to Fu S. Mei (
The highly changeable international community is giving Taiwan a second chance now. Can Taiwan understand its own national interests?
Nadia Tsao is a US correspondent for the Liberty Times.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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