- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

TAIPEI — Taiwan could fend off a concerted attack by China for at least two weeks before it would need help from the United States, according to the results of an unprecedented high-level exercise.

For the first time, the Ministry of National Defense ran the weeklong war game for President Chen Shui-bian of the Republic of China and other political leaders in April to test their ability to respond to a military assault from the mainland.

Mr. Chen, Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, Defense Minister Lee Jye and other Cabinet ministers participated in the exercise, wrestling with a simulated missile attack that severely damaged the island’s financial communications.

They sought continuity in government when several leaders were killed or wounded. They mobilized the armed forces to repel an amphibious invasion from the mainland.

“We could defend our country by ourselves for at least two weeks if we were attacked by the [People’s Republic of China],” said Abe C. Lin, the ministry’s director of strategic planning, referring to the outcome of the exercise and intelligence assessments.

The findings are important to the United States: Under the Taiwan Relations Act, often cited by the Bush administration as the basis for the U.S. posture on Taiwan, the United States would be obliged in most circumstances to come to the island’s aid.

Two weeks would give the U.S. ample time to get forces to the Taiwan Strait, especially after plans for a military buildup on Guam have been completed. Three submarines, which would be vital to disrupting an amphibious assault, are there, and more are coming.

U.S. officials have been in what one called “a grumpy mood” toward Taipei over what they have seen as a provocative posture toward China and a failure to complete an $18 billion arms purchase from the United States.

Bush administration officials have suggested that Taiwan is unwilling to defend itself and relies too much on the United States to prevent it from being seized by China, which claims sovereignty over the island.

Civilian officials and military officers in Taiwan argue vigorously that the characterization is unfair. “We have never thought that we would get a free ride from the U.S. We have never planned to rely only on U.S. forces in our defense,” Mr. Lin said.

He and several colleagues pointed to the lessons learned from the war game; to Taiwan’s first comprehensive national security strategy report, issued in May; to planned increases in defense spending; to forthcoming cuts in military personnel to free funds for investment in weapons; and to a national mobilization law adopted in 2004.

They acknowledged, however, that Taiwan needed to “harden” more of its communications apparatus. The security report called for setting up a hot line between Taipei and Beijing to preclude miscalculation.

Polls suggest that Taiwan’s residents are eager, maybe even desperate, to avoid war with China. A survey by the Mainland Affairs Council, which oversees Taiwan’s relations with China, found that 88.6 percent of respondents wanted a continuation of the status quo. Only a few chose either independence, which could prompt an attack, or unification with China.

Against this backdrop, the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii has been quietly strengthening military ties with Taiwan at the same time it executes the Bush administration’s policy of engaging China through exchanges of visits by senior officers.

Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, a former Pacific commander, has visited Taiwan annually for the past several years to offer advice on a large Taiwanese military exercise. Defense attaches at the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy, are serving officers rather than retired officers on contract. Pacific Command officers regularly visit to confer with counterparts.

Even so, Taiwanese military officers and defense officials expressed misgivings about the U.S. engagement with China, saying they fear the United States might succumb to Chinese pressure or cajolery.

“We support [Pacific commander Adm. William Fallon’s] policy of engagement,” said a Taiwanese admiral, “so long as it is not at our expense.”

The chief spokesman for Adm. Fallon, Capt. W. Jeffrey Alderson, said in response to a query: “No one loses here. Our efforts at engagement and transparency are intended to avoid miscalculations and thus maintain peace and stability in the region.”

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