Sunday, February 29, 2004

Taiwan and the United States have made “remarkable progress” in bolstering Taipei’s defenses in the face of a growing military threat from China, according to a former Pentagon specialist on China.

Michael Pillsbury, a former defense policy-maker and influential Chinese affairs specialist, said in Taipei that more needs to be done to restore the military balance on the Taiwan Strait, which is shifting in favor of China.

“Taiwan’s challenges are serious, but not insurmountable,” Mr. Pillsbury said in a speech prepared for delivery to a conference organized by the Institute for Taiwan Defense and Security Studies in Taipei today. A copy of the speech was obtained by The Washington Times.

“Our defense relationship with Taiwan seeks to reverse negative trends in its ability to defend itself, possibly obviating the need for massive U.S. intervention in a crisis, and allowing Taiwan’s political leaders to determine the island’s future from a position of strength.”

Mr. Pillsbury said that if Beijing is not deterred from using force against the island, “Taiwan, supported by the U.S. and its allies, must be prepared to swiftly defeat the [People’s Republic of China’s] use of force.”

U.S. policy toward Taiwan is governed by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the United States will prevent the use of force by China to reunite the island, which Beijing views as a breakaway province.

China has said it would go to war over Taiwan if the island declares formal independence. Tensions have been raised in recent months over plans by Taiwan to hold a referendum on the threat posed by China’s estimated 500 short-range missiles targeted on Taiwan from neighboring Chinese provinces.

“The [Chinese military’s] growing sophistication, including its efforts to complicate U.S. intervention, calls for more consistent strategic harmonization between the United States and Taiwan to improve Taiwan’s ability to defend itself and reduce the danger to U.S. forces should intervention become necessary,” he said.

The speech for the first time disclosed previously secret details of U.S.-Taiwan defense cooperation, including a series of talks held in Monterey, Calif., that began in 1997. The nine strategy sessions held so far focused on “software” elements of defense cooperation, not arms sales.

Other steps in U.S.-Taiwan defense ties included recent delegations of U.S. defense officials who helped the Taiwanese develop military plans and strategy.

U.S. military survey teams were dispatched to Taiwan in 1999 to help the military prioritize its defense needs, especially improving air defenses, anti-submarine warfare and anti-amphibious assault operations, Mr. Pillsbury said.

In April 2001, the Bush administration improved the procedures used for selling defense arms to Taiwan by conducting arms sales talks on a regular basis, not just once a year, Mr. Pillsbury said.

The administration has offered to sell Taiwan Kidd-class missile destroyers and diesel submarines, items that were denied by earlier administrations.

Mr. Pillsbury said another major step forward in U.S.-Taiwan military ties were efforts begun last year by U.S. officials to press the Taiwanese into investing more in missile defense and electronic warning and surveillance systems, Mr. Pillsbury said.

The upgrading of Taiwan’s command and control systems is significant and “would bring a major new benefit — the ability of Taiwan to begin to cooperate with U.S. forces and other potential security partners if necessary in wartime,” Mr. Pillsbury stated.

Mr. Pillsbury also said the Chinese military buildup “casts a cloud over Beijing’s declared preference for resolving differences with Taiwan through peaceful means.”

The Bush administration has sent mixed signals to Taiwan. In 2001, President Bush said the United States would do “whatever it takes” to help Taiwan’s defense. But in December, during a meeting in Washington with visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Mr. Bush appeared to side with Beijing by criticizing Taiwan’s president for planning to hold a vote on Taiwan’s defense, which is viewed by China as a step toward independence.

The U.S. representative in Taiwan, Douglas Paal, said in a speech last year that “the Taiwan Strait remains one of the world’s most dangerous flash points and preventing conflict there remains a vital U.S. national security concern.”

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