- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

HONOLULU — Senior officers of the U.S. Pacific Command have quietly urged military leaders of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to forgo purchases of some high-tech weapons with offensive capabilities in favor of those arms that would improve the island’s defenses without threatening mainland China.

Officers who asked not to be named because of political sensitivities in Taipei, Beijing and Washington said they thought this approach would help keep the peace between Taiwan and China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

Beijing repeatedly has asserted that it would use military force to prevent Taipei from declaring formal independence.

Any conflict over Taiwan most likely would involve the United States, which is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on specifics in this article, saying that U.S. policy toward Taiwan has not changed.

“The [Pentagon] remains firmly committed to fulfilling the security and arms sales provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act. We will continue to assist Taiwan in meeting its legitimate self-defense needs under the TRA.”

The officers said the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. William J. Fallon, had encouraged Taiwan to strengthen its defenses with increased spending, a better command structure, more joint training, and defensive missiles, mines and helicopters.

After studying Taiwan’s defenses, the U.S. officers said, the admiral has urged the Taiwanese forces to acquire more missiles for their fighter-interceptor jet aircraft, ground-based anti-aircraft missiles, attack helicopters and mines to defend the beaches against amphibious invaders and transport helicopters to move troops against invading paratroopers.

The officers suggested that the arms package featuring offensive weapons such as diesel-electric submarines, anti-submarine patrol planes and destroyers, which the Bush administration offered to sell Taiwan in 2001, be allowed to fade away.

It has languished in Taiwan’s legislature due to adamant opposition by the majority Nationalist Party, often known by its Chinese name, the Kuomintang or KMT.

So far, the Pacific Command recommendation appears not to have been well-received in Taipei, where the government of President Chen Shui-bian, of the Democratic Progressive Party, continues to insist that Taiwan buy most of the arms package priced between $16 billion and $20 billion.

National Defense Minister Lee Jye was reported in the Taiwanese press on Wednesday as brushing off the suggestion.

Beijing has objected to every American proposal to sell arms to Taiwan.

Chinese President Hu Jintao mostly likely will bring up the subject when President Bush visits Beijing on a trip scheduled for November.

In Washington, judgments appear to be divided.

Military officers here said that some senior civilian officials and military leaders supported the Pacific Command’s proposal while political supporters of Taiwan demanded that the U.S. continue to press Taipei to purchase the weapons offered in 2001.

A refrain that has been heard with increasing intensity holds that even advocates of Taiwan have grumbled that the U.S. should not be expected to defend Taiwan if the Taiwanese are not willing to defend themselves.

They point particularly to Taiwan’s defense spending, which has been in decline for a decade.

Said a Taiwanese official reached by phone: “We have gotten that message several times.”

The officers, noting that Adm. Fallon recently had made his first trip to China, said he sought to deter China by reminding Chinese leaders that the U.S. had the capability and resolve to help defend Taiwan.

He tried to balance that by proposing new exchanges, inviting Chinese officers to observe U.S. military exercises and having American officers make reciprocal visits to China.

Those exchanges have been curtailed since a Chinese fighter plane collided with a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea in 2001; the Chinese pilot died and the American crew made an emergency landing on the island of Hainan.

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