The man picked to be the next US secretary of defense has warned that the US must be prepared to engage in a military conflict with China over Taiwan, according to Washington news reports that have been given weight by Taipei Times sources.
Robert Gates, who has been nominated to replace US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, presented his assessment of cross-strait tensions in written statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in advance of panel hearings scheduled for next week on his confirmation to the post.
"We should maintain our capabilities to resist China's use of force or coercion against Taiwan and assist Taipei in maintaining its self-defense," Gates said.
Gates wrote that while Beijing appears to want a peaceful merger with Taiwan, China's "near-term focus is on generating sufficient combat power to rapidly erode Taiwan's will to resist and to deter or deny effective intervention in a cross-strait conflict," Associated Press reported.
China is working to become Asia's pre-eminent power, and it is "expanding its political and economic influence in the region and generating options for military coercion," Gates wrote.
Gates' comments were in the form of answers to questions posed by committee members as they prepare to question him on Taiwan and other issues at the confirmation hearing next Tuesday.
Pentagon spokesmen would not supply the text of Gates' answers, saying that as Gates was not yet defense secretary, the defense secretary's office did not have a role in supplying the information to the congressional committee.
Official sources say the White House gave the documents to the committee on Tuesday.
The Washington Post and New York Times ran stories about Gates' testimony in their Wednesday editions, but focused almost exclusively on Gates' comments on Iraq and the Middle East.
The New York Times did not mention China or Taiwan, and the Post only mentioned the issue in a brief reference.
Rumsfeld resigned as defense secretary on Nov. 8, the day after the Democratic Party scored a resounding sweep of both houses of Congress, upending the Republicans in a contest seen as a referendum on Bush's Iraq strategy. Bush immediately named Gates as Rumsfeld's successor.
The Senate is expected to approve the nomination, enabling Gates to take over by the end of the year.
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