- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

HONOLULU — U.S. officials have been warning Taiwan that it must do more to prepare its own defense against a potential attack from China rather than rely largely on the United States — and that if it doesn’t, the United States may feel less obligated to come to its rescue.

Publicly, that warning has been delivered by officials of the American Institute in Taiwan, the quasi-official embassy in Taipei that functions in the absence of normal diplomatic relations, and two prominent Washington think tanks with ties to the Bush administration — the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Privately, U.S. officials said, that advice had been delivered by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by way of retired senior U.S. military officers visiting Taiwan and by active-duty U.S. colonels who visit Taiwan to confer with Taiwanese officers.

“Some of the investments that Taiwan would like to make are not optimized for the defense of Taiwan,” said one senior officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. pressure on Taiwan appears to be bipartisan and long in the making.

Former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, a Republican who served under President Clinton, told an audience in Taiwan: “You cannot expect the American people to burden ourselves the way we are to carry out responsibilities for other countries if there is no corresponding effort being made for self-defense.”

In a research paper, Denny Roy, a specialist on U.S.-Taiwan relations at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, writes:

“Among Taiwan’s long-standing grievances with the United States are a perceived domineering U.S. attitude and suspicion that the Americans may use Taiwan for purposes not necessarily in Taiwan’s best interest.

“Many Americans, on the other hand, complain that Taiwan has been too slow to make difficult but essential changes in its defense policy.” Mr. Roy quoted Mr. Cohen in that paper.

This widening rift between Washington and Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty, comes as Chinese President Hu Jintao prepares to visit Washington next month.

He is expected to repeat a message delivered by all visiting Chinese officials — that the future of Taiwan is the most sensitive issue between China and the United States.

Although Mr. Hu has proclaimed that China seeks to take over Taiwan by peaceful means, his government repeatedly has threatened to use military force if Taiwan declares formal independence.

The main point of contention between Washington and Taipei is a package of weapons offered by the United States that includes eight diesel-electric submarines, six Patriot anti-missile batteries, 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft and other items worth $15 billion to $18 billion.

The Bush administration presented that package in April 2001, but the proposal has languished ever since.

Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian, who belongs to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has urged lawmakers to approve funds for the purchase. But the legislature, controlled by the opposition Nationalist Party, has refused.

The Nationalists, who ruled the island and were supported by the United States against the communist-ruled mainland for decades, have contended that some of the weapons aren’t needed, that they are too expensive or they aren’t modern enough.

Underneath it all, the Nationalists appear to relish opposing Mr. Chen and the DPP.

In addition, Nationalist Party leaders have sought to undercut Mr. Chen by visiting Beijing, where they have been well received.

American military officers point to a steady decline in Taiwan’s military spending, reductions in conscription and a failure to adhere to high standards of training and readiness.

Command and control of joint operations was said to be particularly weak.

President Bush sought to set a firm policy on Taiwan shortly after he came to office in 2001, saying that the U.S. would do “whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan from the mainland.

The arms package was intended to underscore that pledge.

After the terrorist assaults of September 11, 2001, the administration toned down its rhetoric on Taiwan as it sought to enlist China in the war against terror.

Further, the administration admonished Mr. Chen to moderate his drive toward Taiwan’s formal independence, the basic platform of his party.

Now, the pendulum has swung back, with the Bush administration pressing to complete the purchase of the weapons package.

A Pentagon report last month noted that the military balance between China and Taiwan “appears to be shifting toward Beijing” as a result of China’s economic growth, diplomatic leverage and improved military capabilities.

The report concluded that China’s military modernization “has increased the need for countermeasures that would enable Taiwan to avoid being quickly overwhelmed.”

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