June 28, 2005

Taiwan says U.S. arms deal will fend off China

By Alice Hung

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan risks losing its military edgeover ideological foe China -- and support from the UnitedStates -- if parliament fails to approve a US$15 billion armsbudget, a senior defense ministry official said.

The United States, which recognizes China and not Taiwan,offered the package of advanced weapons in 2001 in what wouldbe the biggest arms sale to Taiwan in more than a decade.Taiwan has since cut its budget for the arms from $18 billionto $15 billion

"Failure to pass the arms purchase bill means our fightingpower cannot be improved at a time when Communist China'sdefense spending is growing at double-digit percentage pointsevery year," Hu Chen-pu, director-general of the GeneralPolitical Warfare Bureau, told Reuters late on Monday.

"The reason Communist China has not used force against usis not because of its goodwill, but because of a lack ofcapability," Hu said in his first interview with foreign mediasince taking office in February.

"As the gap grows wider and wider, we are in factencouraging them to attack."

Beijing has viewed Taiwan as part of Chinese territorysince the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed tobring the self-governed democracy of 23 million people back tothe fold -- by force if necessary.

The United States recognizes the mainland as China's solelegitimate government -- the "one-China" policy -- but in adeliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is alsoobliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself.

Hu said the package of six Patriot anti-missile batteries,eight diesel-electric submarines and 12 P-3C Orionsubmarine-hunting aircraft would deter China from waging warand ensure peace for 30 years in the Taiwan Strait -- seen bysome security analysts as one of the most dangerous hot spotsin Asia.


Without it, China would be capable of launching an attackagainst the island in two years, he said, citing U.S. experts.

"If we don't buy the weapons we need, other people willthink we don't have the determination to defend ourselves,"said Hu, whose bureau has launched a series of campaigns to winpublic support for the budget.

"If we are too weak to fight, they will give up on us. Willthe Americans risk its soldiers being killed because ofTaiwan?"

Taiwan's delay in approving the arms deal has fueledworries in Washington that Taipei is not serious about its owndefense, with some senior U.S. officials calling the budget alitmus test for U.S.-Taiwan relations

The Pentagon has raised the alarm over China's militarymodernization for years. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeldaccused China earlier this month of expanding its missileforces and capabilities and enhancing its ability to projectpower at a time when it faced no threat.

Last year, the Pentagon said China had more than 500short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and its defensespending of $50 billion to $70 billion was third behind theUnited States and Russia and aimed at winning a possibleconflict with Taiwan and exerting power.

But Taiwan opposition parties, which hold a slim majorityin parliament, say the U.S. weapons are overpriced and themoney can be better spent on education and social welfare.

Parliament is in recess and does not meet again untilSeptember.

Hu also said Taiwan was trying to prepare soldiers for apossible war as closer trade ties and private exchanges withChina may confuse them as to who was the enemy.

For the first time in years, the military had included aweek of psychological warfare training in this year's annualHan Kuang, or "Chinese Glory," war games to counter threatsfrom China -- both militarily and psychologically, Hu said.

"What worries us the most is that our soldiers maymistakenly think a war is unlikely," he said. "It is verydangerous for the military to think that way."