ROC, US officials mum on carrier movements

February 25, 2000 United Daily News

The ROC Ministry of National Defense yesterday refused to comment on Washington's strident response to the PRC's recent white paper on Taiwan affairs, and Defense Ministry officials also declined to respond to reports that the USS Kitty Hawk carrier squadron has left its home port in Japan to patrol the Taiwan Strait area. The MND did, however, state that the ROC opposes the use of force to resolve the cross-strait issue.

The MND stressed that, rather than foreign goodwill and support, national defense must be built upon ongoing strengthening of armaments and rigorous intelligence of enemy conditions.

Noting that the Kitty Hawk has recently undergone a three-month overhaul, ROC military officials relate that it is ordinary and necessary in such cases to conduct tests at sea to ascertain a ship's fitness. Noting that the Kitty Hawk is not expected to be battle ready until April, officials said they discourage speculation on the carrier's current movements.

The battle squadron accompanying the Kitty Hawk to sea includes one Aegis guided-missile cruiser, one Spruance-class destroyer, and one Perry-class guided missile frigate, while a nuclear submarine is nearby.

Departing somewhat from previous statements on cross-strait issues, the PRC's white paper is characterized by stronger language and has a more threatening tone. Nevertheless, ROC defense officials had no comment to make on the paper.

ROC defense officials have noted that so far there have been no signs of PLA exercises or unusual activity. Yang Chih-heng, deputy director of the Taiwan Research Division of Strategic and International Studies, believes that although the Kitty Hawk is currently undertaking routine exercises, the carrier's movements signify close surveillance of by the United States of the situation in the Taiwan Strait.

Lin Cheng-yi, research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of European and American Studies, offered the view that the Kitty Hawk's seaward movements can be seen as a component of overall preemptive diplomacy.

Other scholars disagreed, however, noting the Kitty Hawk's recent major overhaul and lack of battle readiness. In view of this, they believe that the carrier's current movements can be viewed as routine exercises. Instead of focusing on the Kitty Hawk, they feel that the carrier group headed by the Seventh Fleet's flagship, the USS John C. Stennis - which recently visited Hong Kong and is now headed toward the Indian Ocean - should be observed to see if the carrier group circles back toward Taiwan.

Meanwhile, on February 23 the U.S. Department of Defense refused to confirm a report by a Japanese television station that the Kitty Hawk is heading toward the Taiwan Strait. In the course of a telephone interview with the United Daily News, a U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Command information officer said that currently no U.S. aircraft carrier is either headed toward or moving through the Taiwan Strait, and that the Kitty Hawk is currently conducting exercises east of Japan.