Saturday, September 19, 2009

Taiwan Prepares to Visit U.S. Over Diesel Sub Deal



Taiwan Prepares to Visit U.S. Over Diesel Sub Deal


A fact-finding delegation composed of members of the Taiwan legislature (LY) will visit Washington this week to meet with U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) officials seeking information about the status of a 2001 Bush administration offer to sell Taiwan eight diesel submarines.

With an upcoming presidential election in both Taiwan and the U.S., there are fears in Taiwan that the Bush offer will be withdrawn after 2008. The legislature has been accused of delaying passage of the budget for the submarine program for political reasons. Legislators with pro-China sentiments and anti-Chen Shui-bian — the current Taiwan president — agendas have been active in killing a special budget for submarines first proposed in 2004 more than 60 times.

The result has been bitter feelings on both sides of the issue, with Pentagon officials accusing Taiwan of not being serious about defense and Taiwan legislators accusing the DoD of forcing Taiwan to buy overpriced unwanted military equipment.

The upcoming trip is being described by some officials in Taipei as largely unwanted in the halls of the Pentagon. The delegation will not be met by Defense Secretary Robert Gates but rather will have a few short meetings with minor officials.

Taiwan delegations to the U.S. have been largely ignored officially by the U.S. government because of the quasi-diplomatic status Taiwan suffers from since the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

A U.S. Pentagon official has acknowledged the trip and flatly denied DoD disapproval for the trip: “DoD welcomes this trip. This fact-finding trip should help clarify how the USG plans to proceed with the program and allow the LY members to see the various options from the defense industries. Hopefully, it will help manage expectation and provide the LY members the opportunity to gain insights on the cost.

“The USG estimate for the subs is based on the worst-case scenario where the U.S. has to design and build the subs from scratch. The most likely scenario is a joint effort, where a U.S. defense company builds the subs using an existing, proven design of a foreign diesel submarine. This option will cost less in terms of both time and money.”

However, there is still resistance to the submarine sale among LY members with pro-China sentiments who have turned the entire offer into a political football over the past six years.

“It remains to be seen if better understanding results in better support for the subs in the LY,” the official cautioned.