Taiwan's Chen Proposes Arms Control with China, but Seeks U.S. Arms

Article excerpt

While lobbying for legislative approval of a huge U.S. arms package offer, Taiwanese President Chcn Shui-bian suggested Oct. 10 that Taiwan and China give arms control a thought. Beijing, which is pressing Kurope to drop a long-standing Chinese arms embargo, has not responded.

Delivering a speech celebrating Taiwan's National Day, Chen declared that China and Taiwan "should seriously consider the issue of arms control and take concrete actions to reduce tension and military threats across the Taiwan Strait." He further said both capitals should review their "armament policies" and explore a code of conduct for the strait to help keep the peace.

The same day, Chen issued a public message that Taiwan would "continue to strengthen the military and enhance our defense capabilities." He also accused Taiwan's lawmakers, who face parliamentary elections Dec. 11, of letting politics interfere with the island's security by squabbling over, thereby postponing, a vote on roughly $18 billion in new arms procurement. "A decision should not be considered correct one day but incorrect the next merely for electoral or political considerations," the president stated.

In April 2001, President George W. Bush offered to sell Taiwan four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers, eight diesel-powered submarines (even though the United States has not built a conventional submarine since 19S9), and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft. (see ACT, May 2001.) Since then, the administration also has prodded Taiwan to acquire Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors to protect itself against China's ever-growing number of short-range ballistic missiles aimed across the 160-kilometer-wide strait. The Pentagon estimated this summer that 500 Chinese missiles sit opposite Taiwan.

The high cost of the U.S. arms, differences over the proper mix of weapons to buy, problems finding an appropriate submarine design and builder, and concerns about upsetting China have all combined to delay a final decision by Taipei. After narrowly winning re-election as president in March, Chcn revived the push for the arms package.

China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province that should be under the mainland's control, has vehemently objected to the pending U.S. deal. Although generally opposed to any foreign arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing is particularly agitated about the prospect of Taiwan importing advanced weapons with Chen at the helm because he has been a long-time proponent of Taiwanese independence. …