Taiwanese Admiral Quietly Seeking New Weapons in U.S. : Military: Navy chief’s secret visit comes after Beijing’s warnings that such sales imperil its ties with Washington.


Taiwan is quietly pressing for new weapon systems from the United States, including submarines and antimissile weapons, at a time when China has been sounding alarms that any such arms deliveries will seriously damage relations between Washington and Beijing.

This week, Adm. Ku Chung-lien, commander in chief of Taiwan’s navy, is making a secret trip to Washington. Taiwanese and U.S. officials have refused to discuss the purpose of his visit and noted that Taiwan’s military commanders come to this country every year or two.

However, defense industry and congressional sources said Taiwan is seeking high-tech equipment from the United States to help ease its worries about a possible threat from China, which last summer conducted missile tests off Taiwan’s coast. The supplies that Taiwan seeks could include not only antimissile systems but also submarines, warships and anti-submarine warfare equipment.

“He [Ku] is definitely the guy you would send to talk about that stuff, and I know it’s on his agenda,” one congressional source said. Parris Chang, a leader of the opposition party in Taiwan’s legislature, said in an interview that “we continue to look for submarines, and the United States has not been willing to sell them to Taiwan.”


The intensified Taiwanese drive for U.S. military supplies puts the Clinton Administration in an awkward position. China reacted furiously earlier this year when the White House permitted Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to make an unprecedented visit to this country. He spoke at Cornell University in Upstate New York but did not visit Washington.

And only last week, China issued a series of public warnings, first from a senior military leader in Paris and then in Beijing, that the United States and France should refrain from further arms sales to Taiwan. Shen Guofang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that relations between China and Taiwan are “tense” and that China does not wish to see any countries selling arms to Taiwan.

Yet U.S. defense companies are especially eager to sell to Taiwan, one of the world’s leading markets for military equipment. While Taiwan once obtained all its military supplies from the United States, in recent years it has been turning increasingly to French and other European suppliers. Taiwan recently announced that it was opening a new military procurement office in Paris to match the one it has had for years in Washington.

“Taiwan has lots of needs. They like the United States. And they have cash to pay for the things they buy,” said Anna Stout of the American League for Exports and Security Assistance, a defense-industry trade group. “Lots of countries want to buy, but they don’t have cash.”

“Our defense industries are getting a double whammy,” complained a member of another U.S. trade group who declined to be identified. “Taiwan is turning to the French, who are willing to sell them almost anything. And our State Department isn’t letting them [American companies] sell anything to Taiwan.”

The Taiwan Relations Act, passed in 1979 after the United States and China resumed normal relations, guaranteed that Washington would continue to provide Taiwan with enough arms to defend itself.

However, any new military sales to Taiwan must be approved by the State Department, which examines the implications of any new weapon sale for Washington’s relations with Beijing. In an agreement that the Ronald Reagan Administration negotiated with China in 1982, the United States promised that it would limit American arms sales to Taiwan.

Each year, Taiwan military officials bring to Washington a shopping list of defense equipment that they want to buy. After meetings between these Taiwanese officials and their Defense Department counterparts, the United States decides what can and cannot be sold.

The annual talks about Taiwan’s defense needs are just starting and, at the moment, submarines are said to be Taiwan’s top priority.

“Being an island state, Taiwan is . . . concerned at the possibility that the Chinese could mount a sea blockade and, consequently, it regards the acquisition of submarines as a key part of its defense modernization plans,” the publication Jane’s Intelligence Review reported this month.

An American industry source familiar with the Taiwanese navy commander’s current visit to Washington said that purchasing submarines is “the No. 1 item on their [Taiwan’s] list.”

According to Stout, U.S. defense companies have been urging the Administration to approve the sale of submarines to Taiwan. One firm, for example, is hoping to buy German submarines and refit them for resale to the Taiwanese navy. But the Administration so far has refused to approve any submarine deal.

The other top objective for Taiwan is to be able to counteract any missile or air attack from China.

Last month, France was reported to have reached a deal to sell Mistral shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to Taiwan. Chang, the Taiwan legislator, said that this sale took place after Taiwan tried but failed to win approval to buy American-made Stinger missiles. “We would rather have bought from the United States,” he said.

He and others said that Taiwan has shown interest in buying a theater missile-defense system that would enable the island to defend itself against a Chinese missile attack. Representatives of Lockheed, which produces one such missile-defense system, visited Taiwan last summer for talks, and Ku is said to be exploring further the possibility of buying such a system in Washington this week.