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. US Military Commander Warns Of Cross-Strait Arms Race

lots of buttons to push
Hong Kong (AFP) April 18, 2002
China's growing weaponry targeting Taiwan will eventually force the US to consider boosting the island's missile defences, the top US Asia-Pacific military commander said Thursday.

"China is continuing to deploy, and in fact has accelerated its deployment of missiles which range Taiwan -- these missiles can cause a great deal of destruction," said Admiral Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the US Pacific Command.

Blair, in Hong Kong to give a speech on the fight against international terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region, said if unchecked there would come a time when the Chinese arsenal was powerful enough to breach Taiwan's defences.

"At that time I'm sure there will be consideration of missile defences," he said.

Reports Thursday in Taiwan's United Daily News suggested Taipei is looking to buy Patriot III missiles from the United States to counter the Chinese deployment.

For now, said Blair, China's capabilities cannot yet make a decisive military difference. But if Beijing presses ahead with new deployments, it will only fuel an arms race.

"We will have the same basic military situation at a higher and higher level of armament," he said.

China is thought to have at least 300 ballistic missiles trained on Taiwan along its southeast coast, and the island's defence ministry estimates the number could reach 800 by 2006.

Beijing has repeatedly threatened to bring Taiwan back into the political fold by force after the two split in 1949 after a civil war.

The US is bound by law to offer Taiwan the means to defend itself.

In the war on terrorism, Blair said Beijing has shown the right cooperative tone, and initial exchanges of intelligence have been going well given the considerable "historical baggage" weighing on US-China relations.

But getting more specific cooperation from Beijing will prove more difficult than it has in other countries in the region, he said.

"Who's getting on an airplane, what name is that person using, and when are they arriving -- we haven't achieved that level of intelligence exchange with China (and) I think it is going to take a while," said the commander.

Beijing's foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said later Thursday that: "China has entered in extremely good cooperation with other countries in the fight against terrorism.

"We have had a broad exchange of views with a lot of other countries and have provided our cooperation and help."

Blair was in the Philippines earlier this week for a review of US troops stationed in the south to take part in a anti-terrorist campaign, the biggest US commitment outside of Afghanistan in its war on terror.

A total of 660 US troops are training and advising the local military on Basilan island in their fight against the Abu Sayyaf Muslim guerrillas.

"The objective is to keep a Taliban-like movement from gaining a foothold in that part of the world," Blair said in Hong Kong.

Both Washington and Manila claim the Abu Sayyaf have links with Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Separately, Blair said a heavy reliance on local militia in the Afghan campaign was merely due to practical concerns and not a reflection of weakness in the US forces.

"What we could do quickly is get the airpower in conjunction with the Northern Alliance forces to get the job done -- that is what we chose to do."

US forces have faced growing criticism that the use of local militia rather than US ground troops may have allowed key al-Qaeda members, including bin Laden, to escape Afghanistan.

Taiwan Favours Israeli Subs
Earlier this month in separate developments, Taiwan was reported to be looking to Israel for the supply of a submarine design after the United States bid to build eight conventional submarines for the island seemed to have hit a snag, it was reported Saturday.

A senior official from Taiwan's National Security Council has quietly visited Israel for several times over the past year, the United Daily News said.

"The official boarded a "Dolphin" class submarine to learn about its capability and operational status when he was invited to attend an academic seminar in Israel last month," the daily said.

An Israeli military delegation are expected to visit the island later this month, it said.

US President George W. Bush in April last year approved an arms package for Taiwan that included up to eight diesel submarines.

But the US has not built conventional submarines for more than 40 years and designing an entirely new one would be prohibitively expensive, meaning any solution would likely involve foreign participation.

Military sources here have said Taiwan's navy favors German 209-class or Dutch-designed Moray submarines.

But both countries have said they would not get involved in arms sales to the island, which Beijing regards as part of its territory to be unified with the mainland by force, if necessary.

The paper said the "Dolphin" class was designed and built by German shipyard Howaldswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), but the design was jointly shared by Israel and Germany.

With a crew of 30, the 1,700-tonne "Dolphin" is installed with 10 torpedo tubes, four of which are designed for launching cruise missiles. The submarine carries a price tag of some 300 million US dollars, the paper said.

Taiwan's navy currently operates a fleet of four submarines including two Dutch-built Sword Dragon submarines and two ageing US vessels.

Meanwhile, the paper said Israel has stationed an intelligence official in Taipei as the two countries step up military cooperation, among them the supply of satellite photos.

Israel's Haaretz daily newspaper reported last August the Tel Aviv-based private company ImageSat International transmits its images to Taiwan using a satellite developed from the Israeli spy satellite, Ofek 3.

It said the Chinese government had asked Israel to explain why it had allowed ImageSat to sign a contract with Taiwan.

All rights reserved. 2002 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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