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Taiwan premier talks tough on defense

Chang Chun-hsiung
Premier Chang Chun-hsiung says U.S. will safeguard the Taiwan's interest  

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Serious threat

United front tactics

Three direct links

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan Premier Chang Chun-hsiung has made it clear for the first time that the island is actively considering building an anti-missile defense system.

Part of the system would be built in association with the United States and would protect the island against China's increasingly sophisticated weaponry, he says.

In a written interview with CNN, Chang also expressed confidence that the U.S. will safeguard the island's interests despite efforts by Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen to persuade Washington to cut off their supply of arms.

Referring to Qian's on-going meetings with U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, Chang said: "I believe that US officials will meet Mr Qian with a serious attitude and will not jeopardize our interests."

Serious threat

In a wide-ranging interview, Chang said Taiwan was vulnerable to about 300 short-range guided missiles that the mainland had stockpiled in bases along the coast facing Taiwan.

"A missile attack from the Chinese mainland is a very serious threat to us," he said.

Chang, a main adviser to President Chen Shui-bian, said the island must soon determine whether there is a need for an anti-missile system.

"If the answer is yes, then we should establish a defense system that logically matches our country's military requirements, in accordance with the subjective and objective environment," he said.

Taipei is hoping to buy from Washington four destroyers equipped with Aegis radar systems, which can form a platform for a sea-based theatre missile defense (TMD) system.

Chang stressed, however, that his Democratic Progressive Party government needed a clear mandate from the people for joining a U.S.-led TMD system.

"Even if the U.S. invites us to join the TMD system and we need to join the system, we still must form a consensus among the people on Taiwan before making a final decision."

A veteran legislator known for his negotiating skills, Chang indicated confidence that the Bush administration would be sympathetic to Taiwan's defense needs.

United front tactics

Fighter planes
Chang says Bush administration would be sympathetic to Taiwan's defense needs  

Referring to recent speeches on Taiwan by Bush and aides, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Chang said the statements show "the Bush administration is directly confronting its differences with Beijing in such areas as human rights and is fulfilling its promises to Taiwan."

On relations with the mainland, Chang expressed disappointment that Beijing had torpedoed a resumption of dialogue by setting up "prerequisites and preconditions" such as that Taipei must recognize the 'One China principle.'

He also decried Beijing's efforts to improve links with the Taiwan business community and with opposition parties on the island, including the Kuomintang.

These united front tactics, Chang added, would only enable Beijing to get "one-sided information."

"Such actions are counterproductive to practical resolutions of cross-Strait issues," he said.

Three direct links

The premier said Taipei was evaluating whether the so-called three direct links in transportation, mail and trade could be established with the mainland in the near future.

"In particular, direct transportation links involve a multitude of issues that will require detailed consultation by both sides," he said.

A Taiwan political analyst familiar with Chang said the premier had adopted an usually stern tone on relations with the mainland and on Taiwan's need for advanced defense hardware.

"Chang is sounding tough because he knows Qian is pulling out all the stops to prevent Washington from selling Taiwan sophisticated weapons," the analyst said.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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