A senior Pentagon official yesterday sharply criticized Taiwan’s government for not moving ahead with an arms buildup to counter a mounting threat from China.
Edward Ross, a senior Pentagon security cooperation official, also suggested in a speech that the United States might not defend Taiwan in a conflict with China unless Taipei does more to boost its defenses and national will.
“As the lone superpower, our interests are plentiful and our attention short,” Mr. Ross said. “We cannot help defend you if you cannot defend yourself.”
With U.S. troops fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, “an increasing number of Americans are asking hard questions about how much we are willing to sacrifice — for the security and democracy of others,” Mr. Ross said.
The blunt speech, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, was given at the annual U.S.-Taiwan Business Council-Defense Industry meeting in San Diego. Attendees included Huo Shou-yeh, Taiwan’s vice defense minister, and other officials from the island, which is also known as the Republic of China.
Defense officials said the speech was aimed at pressing Taiwan’s government to pass a proposed $15 billion special defense budget, which is stalled in the legislature by political differences.
The Bush administration in 2001 approved the sale to Taiwan of eight diesel electric submarines, 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft, along with 54 torpedoes, 44 Harpoon submarine-launched anti-ship missiles and additional arms.
The administration also wants Taiwan to purchase Patriot anti-missile systems to counter the more than 750 short-range Chinese missiles deployed within range of the island.
Mr. Ross said China has calculated that U.S. forces will assist Taiwan in any conflict and, as a result, is purchasing more submarines and anti-ship missiles.
The Pentagon is watching both China’s military buildup and Taiwan’s political stalemate over the defense budget and is making its own calculations, he said.
“We do not live in a world of absolutes,” he said. “And the time of reckoning is upon us. In the end, the U.S. ability to contribute to Taiwan’s defense in a crisis is going to be measured against Taiwan’s ability to resist, defend and survive based on it own capabilities.”
He called on Taiwan to unite and invest in a defense-modernization program that will protect its democracy and deter Chinese “aggression” across the Taiwan Strait.
“It is time that the people of Taiwan and their elected officials understand that when it comes to defense, they, and not the United States nor any third party, are in the first instance accountable,” said Mr. Ross, a director in the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Defense officials said differences within the Bush administration over Taiwan have added to the Taiwan defense problem.
Pro-China officials in the Bush administration have sent mixed signals to Taiwan’s government about the need to boost defenses. As a result, Taiwan’s government has been confused about the U.S. position.