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Mullen finds Taiwan a hot topic in China

Beijing made clear its displeasure with U.S. arms sales to the island, the Navy chief says.

August 22, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — The Navy admiral poised to become the U.S. military's top officer reiterated Tuesday that the U.S. would not support a push for independence by Taiwan, but added that Washington would continue to urge the government in Taipei to acquire defensive weapons to hedge against an attack by Beijing.

At the end of a five-day trip to China, Adm. Michael G. Mullen said the issue of Taiwan came up in nearly every meeting he had with Chinese officials, including a question-and-answer session with lower-level officers. Beijing's displeasure with U.S. arms sales was "pointed out to me" repeatedly, he said.

"My president has made it pretty clear that we're not supportive of Taiwan's independence, and any unilateral move in that direction on the part of Taiwan won't be supported by the United States," Mullen said at a news conference here. "At the same time . . . we encourage Taiwan to invest in defensive capabilities. We view that as having a deterrent effect."

The issue of Taiwanese independence, always at the top of the agenda between Beijing and Washington, has become increasingly sensitive here as Taiwan heads toward legislative elections this year and a presidential election early next year, just before Beijing plays host to the Olympic Games.

Taiwan's raucous elections are expected to foster a tendentious debate over Taiwanese sovereignty, including a government-proposed referendum on applying for independent U.N. membership. Such election-year debates have raised cross-strait tensions, something Beijing is loath to see as the Games approach.

Mullen, the Navy's top officer, will become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October.

Despite the differences over Taiwan policy, he found his trip productive, he said, solidifying his personal relationship with the new head of the People's Liberation Army's navy, Vice Adm. Wu Shengli, who visited the U.S. in April.

Although U.S. officials have complained about the level of access to Chinese facilities given to visiting American officers, Mullen said he appreciated the work Wu put into his visit. He added, however, that such military exchanges must continuously improve to strengthen bilateral understanding.

"We've worked very hard to understand each other better," Mullen said. "It's going to take some time. He visited us for roughly a week; I will be here for little under a week. That's two weeks between two leaders of navies. There's a long way to go in that regard, but I'm reassured."

Mullen added that despite strains on U.S. land forces in Iraq, there has been no diminishment in U.S. capabilities in the Pacific, which are more reliant on naval and air forces. He noted that the Pentagon moved more U.S. ships into the Pacific after a strategic review last year.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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