Wed, Sep 12, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Biden cool to talk on independence

US-TAIWAN TIES US Senator Joseph Biden says Taiwan shouldn't count on American help if a formal declaration of independence prompts an attack from China


The US won't come to Taiwan's aid should China attack the country for making a unilateral declaration of independence, US Senator Joseph Biden said on Monday.

Speaking to the National Press Club in Washington, Biden warned both sides of the Strait to refrain from "reckless action."

The US politician, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Taiwan early last month and met with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

During that trip, Biden said the Taiwan Relations Act remained the key document governing America's commitments to Taiwan -- remarks widely seen as an attempt to counter a promise by US President George W. Bush that America would do "whatever it took" to defend the country.

Biden in his speech argued for the retention of what he called the "studied ambiguity'' of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, whereby the US would remain ambiguous on whether it would help Taiwan repel a Chinese attack.

That act, he said, told Taiwan "you are no longer an independent country. You are no longer an independent nation-state. We've agreed that you are going to be part of China and that you will work it out."

Biden also punctuated his comments with a clear warning: "So don't go declaring independence, because we are not willing to go to war over your unilateral declaration of independence."

President Chen has said there is no need to declare independence, as the country is already sovereign and the master of its own affairs.

Biden said the ambiguous wording of the Taiwan Relations Act leaves unanswered the question of whether the US would defend Taiwan, "so we don't encourage reckless action on either side."

"Depending on how each of the parties behaves," he said, "we reserve the right, as we do in every circumstance, to use American forces. ... It will depend upon the circumstances. That's how it's been for seven presidents. That's how it should remain."

The US senator also warned China, saying that the Taiwan Relations Act also lets Beijing know that "if the mainland attempts to [unify with Taiwan] by force and not dialogue, then the United States will provide the military means in terms of material to prevent that from happening."

Biden said that America's "one China" policy rests on cross-strait dialogue, "where the parties mutually arrive at how unification will take place."

Turning his attention to US military spending, Biden said US resources would be better spent helping Taiwan to improve its defenses rather pursuing a multi-billion-dollar national missile defense system.

The senator outlined a number of alternative ways money could be spent -- in particular drawing attention to the condition of plumbing systems at Taiwan's military installations.

"While we're at it, we may fix the plumbing in the barracks at Taipei, which I just visited ... they had to bring in water hoses from outside to allow the women and men in there to be able to shave, to be able to use the bathroom, let alone drink any water," he said.

Biden's comments -- the first since he visited Taiwan -- dealt mainly with his opposition to Bush's missile defense plan.

He warned that the defense shield could spark an arms race, with China, India, Pakistan and other countries boosting their nuclear missile capabilities in response.

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