TAIPEI, January 6, 2003 (STAR)  By Paolo Romero - Taiwan is seeking stronger military cooperation with the Philippines, which it described as a key player in regional security and the worldwide campaign against terrorism.

Sen. Parris Chang, chairman of the committee on foreign relations of the Taiwanese parliament, and Dr. Joseph Wu, deputy secretary general to President Chen Shui-Bian, told visiting Filipino journalists that because of its strategic location in Southeast Asia, the Philippines must have a strong military to adequately address terrorism and contain the expansionist tendencies of China.

"We could cooperate and help in terms of joint training, and also exchange of officers," Wu said, adding that closer exchange of intelligence information could boost Manila’s campaign against terrorism, drug trafficking, human smuggling and poaching.

"It is in the interest of the countries to ensure security in the region. The Philippines, a key player, must be militarily strong," Chang said.

He pointed out that since both countries are geographically close to each other, the possibility of joint border patrol should also be explored to thwart poaching and smuggling of drugs, humans and goods.

Chang said that although the United States has been assisting the Philippines economically and militarily, Taiwan can complement the assistance in its own way by improving the Philippine military’s information systems.

Taiwan has been acknowledged as having one of the world’s best military information systems.

Chang and Wu also noted while the Philippines does not maintain official diplomatic ties with their country, there have been strong economic, ethnic, cultural, historical and military linkages between the two countries.

The only obstacle in bilateral relations is Manila’s one-China policy, they pointed out.

China considers Taiwan as a renegade province and has thought of military invasion as an option to reclaim the territory.

Wu asserted that the Philippines and Taiwan were "de facto allies."

"We are only limited in our official relations, but we respect the decision of the Philippine government on that," Wu said.

Chang said both countries were wary of China’s plans pertaining the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

He also said Taiwan stands as a buffer zone between China and the rest of Southeast Asia and Japan, adding that the next country after Taiwan would be the Philippines.

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