U.S. Pacific commander urges Taiwan to boost defense
Fallon says anti-missile batteries would be more effective against China than offensive weapons
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii » The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said yesterday that Taiwan should upgrade its Patriot anti-missile defense batteries and buy other weapons, such as mines, that would help protect the island if China attacked.
Adm. William Fallon, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said obtaining such weaponry would be a more effective use of funds than buying the more expensive, high-tech offensive weapons that the United States offered to sell Taiwan four years ago.
Fallon said in an interview at Pacific Command headquarters that defensive weapons would also have the benefit of being less provocative to China.
"As I take stock of the situation and have had an assessment of where we stand, it seems to me there are some things that would be much more useful than others in helping Taiwan better prepare its defenses," Fallon said.
Examples of steps Taiwan could take include upgrading the Patriot anti-missile systems it already has and buying airplane-mounted missiles that could shoot down invading aircraft, he said.
Taiwan also could buy sea mines to protect the island's beaches from an amphibious assault, he said.
Fallon said he brought up the subject with Taiwanese military officials several months ago.
"We would hope they would contemplate ways in which they could be more effective in their defense," he said.
Taiwan's legislature has balked at paying for the $18 billion arms package that Washington agreed to sell it in 2001.
The opposition argued that the weapons, including eight diesel-electric submarines and four Kidd-class destroyers, were too expensive and would spark an arms race with China.
The ruling party said the hardware, requested by Taiwan's military, was essential for fending off an attack by China, which has threatened to use force to unify the two sides that split amid civil war in 1949.
The arms offer has sat almost untouched in the four years since, prompting some U.S. critics to question whether Taiwan was willing to help shoulder the burden for its own defense.
Fallon did not express such criticisms, but he said the failure by Taiwan to invest more in its defense would upset the military balance in the Taiwan Strait.
He noted Taiwan's defense spending has been dropping as a percentage of its gross domestic product even as China spent heavily to modernize and upgrade its military.
"If these trend lines continue, there is a clear gap and a potential to have a significant imbalance, which might not be useful for long-term stability," Fallon said.
The United States adheres to Beijing's "one China" policy that the island and mainland are part of the same nation. But Washington has also vowed to defend Taiwan, a democratic self-governing island, if China launched an attack.
Fallon said his emphasis on defensive weapons did not mean the United States was adopting a new policy toward Taiwan.
"The big goal is, no military interaction, long-term stability -- you guys solve your problem peacefully. Now what's the smartest way to get there?" he said.