- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has asked the Bush administration to approve sales of advanced destroyers and to increase contacts with Taiwanese officials here, according to a senior Taiwanese politician.

Parris Chang, a legislator and senior member of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said in an interview that the letter expresses Taiwan's need for Aegis guided-missile warships to counter the growing military threat from China.

The letter reinforced last month's request by Taiwan for the advanced warships as part of an annual package of weapons. The Clinton administration rejected a similar attempt to purchase Aegis destroyers last year.

Other systems sought by Taipei this year include diesel submarines, P-3 surveillance aircraft, and advanced air-launched missiles, including infrared-guided Maverick missiles and the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM, which is used to destroy radar systems, Mr. Chang said.

Regarding upgraded diplomatic contacts, Mr. Chang said the Clinton administration "snubbed" Taiwan's diplomats, and Mr. Chen is asking the new Bush administration to improve contacts between administration officials and Taiwan's diplomatic representatives.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1978 when it recognized Beijing. Taiwan is now represented by a semiofficial office known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Relations Office, or TECRO.

TECRO spokesman Eric Chiang declined to comment on the content of Mr. Chen's letter to the administration.

Mary Ellen Countryman, a White House National Security Council spokeswoman, confirmed that Mr. Chen has written the new administration but said Mr. Bush has not seen his letter yet.

A State Department spokesman referred to the White House all questions on Mr. Chen's letter, which was delivered by Wang Jin-ping, the speaker of Taiwan's legislature, several days ago.

Mr. Wang led a delegation of about 40 Taiwanese officials, including Mr. Chang, to Mr. Bush's inauguration.

Mr. Chang said the Aegis ships are needed in addition to a U.S. proposal to sell less-capable Kidd-class U.S. destroyers to Taiwan as a stopgap measure.

"Our president is saying we need the Aegis ships, and that the Kidd-class ships are not enough," Mr. Chang said. "This will be very very important for Taiwan's defense."

The Taiwanese want to buy four Aegis destroyers, which cost about $1 billion each and would take between eight and 10 years to build and deploy.

The Kidd destroyers were proposed by the Pentagon because they would come from an existing fleet and could be transferred within the next several years.

The Aegis ships which contain the high-technology Aegis battle management system are much more advanced and will provide Taiwan with a base for developing effective sea-based anti-missile defenses, in addition to coastal defense.

According to Pentagon officials, China has destabilized the Taiwan Strait in recent years with its deployment of hundreds of short-range missiles. The Clinton administration limited Taiwan's access to advanced weaponry in trying to placate Beijing, said officials who declined to be named.

A recent Pentagon review of Taiwan's maritime defense needs was completed last year and strongly recommended providing Aegis ships, P-3 aircraft and submarines to bolster the island's defenses, said officials familiar with the review.

The Aegis ship request is likely to anger China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province. China opposes sales of advanced weaponry to the island.

The official Communist Party newspaper, People's Daily, stated in a commentary last week that any effort by the new administration to deal with China as an ideological adversary will lead to "confrontation and even conflict."

Mr. Chang noted that the last major U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan 150 F-16 fighters was first proposed in 1981, but no planes were transferred until 1992.

"The point is that if [the Aegis sale] is delayed it will send the wrong signal and could give China more time to mobilize opposition to it," Mr. Chang said.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said selling Aegis ships to Taiwan would bolster U.S. security as well as Taiwan's security.

"The communist Chinese have been upgrading their weapons systems that are aimed at Taiwan, so it's consistent that we upgrade the weapons systems Taiwan has to defend itself in order to deter acts of aggression."

The final word on the annual arms-sales request, which is expected in April, is likely to be the first test of Mr. Bush's policy toward China, which he has said will be aimed at treating China as a competitor and not a partner.

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