Thursday, October 30, 2003

Protecting Taiwan

The US is attempting to improve Taiwan's ability to protect itself from China, but is apparently meeting some resistance from Taiwan itself.

The Bush administration has quietly embarked on an ambitious effort to restructure Taiwan's military and improve the island's ability to defend itself against China. But the U.S. plan is foundering because Taiwan's leaders are reluctant to foot the enormous bill and force change upon the island's highly politicized and conservative military, U.S. and Taiwanese officials said.

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U.S. military representatives, once almost completely banned from visiting Taiwan, are currently involved in dozens of programs on the island, including both classroom seminars and training in the field. U.S. officers are advising Taiwan's military at all levels in policy, implementation and training, U.S. and Taiwanese officials said. In addition, the two militaries have established a hotline for communicating in case of an emergency, a U.S. official and a senior Taiwanese diplomat said. Meanwhile, hundreds of Taiwanese military personnel are now undergoing training and education in the United States, U.S. officials said.

The sharp expansion of military ties risks angering China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. "China will not tolerate a de facto alliance," said a senior Chinese official, speaking on condition of anonymity. China's defense minister, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, is in Washington for talks that will focus in part on Taiwan.

But many officials acknowledged that the program has thus far done little to improve Taiwan's ability to defend itself. "The United States has put a lot effort into this project, but there's really no improvement," said retired Adm. Nelson Ku, the former commander of Taiwan's navy and now a member of Taiwan's congress.

U.S. officials said many Taiwanese officials, including President Chen Shui-bian, are reluctant to lock horns with the powerful military to push the reforms; others have not acknowledged that Taiwan needs to improve its war-fighting capabilities. Taiwanese government officials and legislators acknowledged the pace of change was glacial.

"It's like the end of the Qing dynasty when the emperors bought fancy weapons but there was no change in thinking," said Shuai Hua-min, a former army two-star general and one of the main advocates of military reforms here. "They don't care whether the weapons systems are useful or not. It's become purely political to show China how close Taiwan is to the United States."


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