- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

U.S. officials say they may have to scale back a landmark arms agreement with Taiwan after legislative elections in which parties opposing the deal kept control of the island’s legislature.

The Bush administration previously had described the $18 billion arms sale, first announced by President Bush in 2001, as a “litmus test” of Taiwan’s willingness to defend itself.

The deal, strongly opposed by China, calls for the sale to Taiwan of weapons systems, including guided-missile destroyers, P-3 anti-submarine aircraft, diesel submarines and Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems.

The Pentagon is still pushing for the full package, but officials there and at other agencies said that may be difficult after opponents of President Chen Shui-bian, who campaigned against the deal, retained their majority in the Legislative Yuan.

“We still think that Taiwan needs to step up its commitment to its own defense, and if it doesn’t approve the deal, that commitment would be in doubt,” a Pentagon official said.

A senior State Department official said it may be necessary to find a way to reduce the $18 billion price tag to get the deal through the Yuan.

“When the political situation in Taiwan settles down, we’ll sit down with other agencies and decide what the best way forward is,” the official said.

The opposition’s strong showing in Saturday’s elections was seen as an attempt by the island’s voters to ease tensions with mainland China over Mr. Chen’s pro-independence agenda. Opposition parties won 114 of the parliament’s 225 seats.

The arms deal has been a sore point in U.S.-Chinese relations since it was announced early in the Bush presidency. The Beijing government, which considers Taiwan a wayward province of China, argues that arms sales to the island are an obstacle to the peaceful reunification of the two Chinas.

The United States counters that Taiwan needs the weapons to defend itself from a Chinese military buildup and that it is obligated to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself under the terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

According to press accounts, China already has targeted more than 600 missiles at Taiwan, and is adding about 75 ballistic missiles each year to its arsenal.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense waged an unprecedented public-relations campaign to win public support for the deal, opening up one of its three Patriot missile bases for the first time to the media.

But critics have said the $18 billion would be better spent on public welfare projects.

Lai Shih-bao, an opposition candidate, made the plan one of the main issues in his election campaign.

“The arms sale is a hot issue,” he said. “We are against this. We don’t need this expensive budget. We are not against national defense, but we oppose this special budget.”

Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, had said in October that “the passage of this budget is a litmus test of Taiwan’s commitment to its self-defense.”

“We believe that a vote against the budget risks sending the message that Taiwan’s democracy has not matured to the point where national security trumps partisan politics,” Mr. Lawless said.

He predicted that future threats from China would “range from computer-network attacks to compromising Taiwan’s public utilities, communications, operational security and transportation.”

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