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   Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) - News Clipping

Arming Taiwan

Washington Post- Wednesday, April 19, 2000 ; A26

THE CLINTON administration has reached its long-awaited decision on arms sales to Taiwan, and it appears that the small democracy off China's east coast will have to settle for much less U.S. hardware than it had wished for. No new high-tech Aegis missile cruisers. No P-3 Orion airplanes to counter China's growing submarine fleet. And no new submarines for Taiwan's navy.

Taiwan will be permitted to buy a ground-based long-range radar system to strengthen its outmoded defenses against a Chinese air or missile attack, although it is still not clear whether the administration intends to sell the Taiwanese the Pentagon's top-of-the-line model. In addition, the Taiwanese will get Maverick air-to-ground missiles; and an air-to-air weapon, the AMRAAM, will be assigned to Taiwan but warehoused in the United States until China acquires a comparable system. Over the next year, the Pentagon will conduct a study of Taiwan's naval needs; that's a way of softening the Aegis decision by suggesting it isn't final.

Taiwan's ability to absorb a large infusion of sophisticated weaponry, such as exists on the Aegis, is a matter of legitimate debate. Skeptics argue that Taiwan lacks the trained personnel to make good use of the ships and that other needs, such as help with military organization, should take precedence. And the proposed sale is hardly trifling; some items would be of clear benefit to Taiwan immediately, especially the powerful Mavericks. Still, it appears that Pentagon policymakers were at least seriously considering urging the White House to supply the Aegis, only to decide otherwise when it became clear that the White House considered this overly provocative of China, which has been menacing Taiwan because the Taiwanese freely elected a president China deems insufficiently amenable to unification on China's terms.

And that's cause for concern. It is hard to view this decision in isolation from such recent occurences as National security adviser Sandy Berger's trip to Beijing, during which China's leaders apparently demanded no advanced weapons sales to Taiwan. Nor can it be viewed separately from yesterday's defeat of a proposal for a formal United Nations Human Rights Commission expression of concern about political repression in China--a measure that was, commendably enough, proposed by the Clinton administration, but which then died without much of a fight by Washington on its behalf.

Congressional Republicans already are criticizing the president. They need to be careful not to play politics with this issue. But it is up to Congress to ask hard questions about whether the administration's proposed sales to Taiwan are really enough to help deter a Chinese move against the island or whether more support is necessary. Particularly as it also seeks a trade opening with China, the administration must show that it fully understands the importance of matching China's toughening posture toward Taiwan with an equal measure of American resolve.

2000 The Washington Post Company

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