Following US President George W. Bush's lead in comments he made during his recent trip to Beijing, the US' top commander in the Asia-Pacific region Wednesday cited the Taiwan Relations Act as the key to assuring China would not attack Taiwan anytime in the future.
Testifying before a hearing at the House of Representatives, Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, also described America's military might and weapons sales to Taiwan as the "foundation" for any peaceful solution of cross-strait issues.
Blair made his comments in his annual appearance before the East Asia and Pacific subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee on US security policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
While he said that China is still "years away" from having the military capability to attack and hold Taiwan, he also listed the Taiwan Strait situation among other potential flashpoints in the region that "still keep me up at night and keep my forces extremely busy maintaining deterrence."
Blair said that US military deterrence will prevent China from successfully taking Taiwan.
"The fundamental situation is that the Chinese can cause a great deal of damage to Taiwan in ways that the Taiwanese armed forces, even the US armed forces, cannot stop: missiles that can be shot at Taiwan and damage by long-range aviation and sabotage and so on. That's a reality," he said.
"The other reality is, however, that China cannot attain its stated goal of unifying with Taiwan by military force. They do not have the military capability to take and hold Taiwan. And that is military reality -- as long as the US follows the Taiwan Relations Act and ensures that Taiwan has sufficient defenses, and as long as my forces have the orders, which they have, to be ready to support Taiwan if ordered to -- that situation is not going to change," he said.
In Beijing last week, Bush described compliance with the Taiwan Relations Act as a cornerstone of US policy to Taiwan, a statement that cheered Taiwan officials. That act, passed in 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing, calls for the US to supply Taiwan with the weapons it needs to defend against a Chinese attack.
While Blair said that the Bush administration's decision last year on a substantial arms sales package to Taiwan will give the island sufficient defense in the near term, he also cautioned that Taiwan must continue to restructure and modernize.
"Taiwan still needs to focus on developing and modernizing C4ISR, integrated air and sea defense, and the ability to integrate its armed forces to conduct effective joint operations," Blair said in prepared written testimony. C4ISR refers to command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Blair described the increasing economic interaction between Taiwan and China as the "most encouraging" non-military aspect of cross-strait relations.
He said this, "plus human contact, plus the removal of barriers across the Strait, will lead to a way in which both Taiwan and China can reach an agreement which satisfies their needs. And, in the meantime, I think we can hold the military ring to make it very unattractive for China to conduct military aggression."
Overall, Blair called the situation in the Strait "stable" and said that militarily it is more stable than the impression "you sometimes get if you read the headlines."