US Congress will `respond' if need be

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Sun, Mar 06, 2005 - Page 1

The US Congress is concerned that China's proposed "anti-secession" law could change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait or increase the possibility of a Chinese attack, and would respond if the law increased either danger, senior congressional staffers on the House International Relations Committee warned on Friday.

But until Beijing publishes the text of the proposed legislation, which it has so far kept a secret, there is little that Congress can do, the staffers told a seminar hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

In any event, the staffers said, the earliest that Congress could respond to any dangers posed by the law would be next month, since China's National People's Congress is not expected to approve and publish the law before March 15.

Congress goes out on a two-week spring break a few days after that date.

"We are very concerned about China's not doing anything to change the status quo across the Strait, and if the law in any way changes the status quo or increases the threat of the use of force, Congress is likely to speak out in opposition to it," said Peter Yeo, deputy Democratic staff director of the House committee.

Conceding that "there are limits to what we can do," Yeo said that Congress would likely express concern over the law.

Dennis Halpin, the committee staffer responsible for China affairs for the majority Republicans, agreed. He cited US President George W. Bush's comments on Dec. 9, 2003, in which Bush publicly berated President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for planning an election-day referendum on cross-strait matters. Bush at the time opposed any changes in the status quo by either side, including Beijing, Halpin said.

Congress is prepared to press the administration on that statement, Halpin said.

"If people see that the language that comes out of the anti-secession law is a clear direction to the change in the status quo, people would remind the administration of its public statement opposing changes in the status quo," he said.

The US has already voiced its opposition to a draconian "anti-secession" law, and Beijing may have reacted to that, the congressional staffers indicated.

"I think it should be clear through private and other channels that the people in Beijing are well aware of Congress' bottom-line concerns on this," Halpin said. "So if they decide to cross the Rubicon, there will be a reaction," he said.

Halpin also predicted that there would be a "vigorous congressional response" if the EU ends its arms embargo on China.

"It is a very high priority for the committee," he said. People in "very high levels of our committee are very concerned about the EU action."

He would not give details, and refused to comment on reports that Congress may impose sanctions against the EU in response.

Speaking on US arms sales to Taiwan, Yeo described as "shocking" the Legislative Yuan's failure to pass the special defense budget authorizing the purchase of diesel submarines, PAC-3 anti-missile batteries and PC-3 anti-submarine aircraft.

"It is undoubtedly going to have an impact on US-Taiwan relations," he said.

"Taiwan needs to recognize that it has to approve the additional defense spending, because the US is not going to be solely responsible for Taiwan's defense," he said.