April 5, 2006

Lawmaker prods Taiwan on delayed arms sale

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A political wrangle in Taiwan that
has delayed a $12 billion U.S. arms sale is raising questions
about the island's commitment to its own defense, an American
lawmaker warned on Tuesday.

President George W. Bush's administration offered Taiwan
the deal in 2001. It includes eight diesel-electric submarines
and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, who champions Taiwan's
distinct identity if not outright independence for the
self-governing island, supports the deal.

But the opposition Nationalist Party, known also as the
Kuomintang or KMT, has blocked Chen's efforts to put the
package before parliament 50 times over the past year, the
latest this week. The KMT fears the deal could draw Taiwan into
an arms race with Beijing.

Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons, a pro-Taiwan Republican whose
district includes General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard which
builds submarines for the U.S. Navy, rejected that argument.

He said the opposition's reluctance to vote on spending $12
billion for submarines that do not yet exist could be addressed
by separating the design and production phases for the eight
diesel-electric submarines.

Simmons says he has won support from the governments of the
United States and Taiwan for starting with a design contract to
get the deal moving. If that failed, he would seriously doubt
whether the Taiwanese still had the will to defend their

"If we are not able to take the first bite, then that says
to me that it's over for that aspect of Taiwan's defense and
that is a serious message to the United States," he told a
seminar hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a
conservative Washington think tank.

Last month, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou visited Washington
and said he was building party consensus on the package. But he
stopped short of backing the deal.

"The KMT party leadership cannot continue to tap-dance

on the issue," Simmons said. "You can't have it both ways."

Simmons, a Chinese-speaking former intelligence officer who
served in Taiwan in the 1970s before Washington switched
diplomatic recognition to Beijing, said that while Taiwan
hesitated, China was rapidly building up its military forces
arrayed against the island.

China has viewed Taiwan as part of Chinese territory since
the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring
the self-governed democracy of 23 million people back to the
fold by force if necessary.

The United States recognizes the mainland as China's sole
legitimate government, but in a deliberately ambiguous piece of
foreign policy it is also obligated by law to help Taiwan
defend itself.