US up in arms over `anti-secession' law

ACTION, REACTION: After some of the content of the controversial bill was revealed, the response of US officials ranged from `unhelpful' to `disconcerting'

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Thu, Mar 10, 2005 - Page 1

The US lashed out at China's proposed "anti-secession" law Tuesday, with the White House calling on Beijing to rethink its plan to enact the law and the commander of the US Forces Pacific calling the law "disconcerting" in its potential impact on the security of the region.

The reaction came as the Bush administration got its first substantive glimpse of the law through a summary provided as an "explanation" delivered by National People's Congress official Wang Zhaoguo (王兆國) to the NPC session on Monday.

Washington's reaction took aim at the law's provision that would permit the State Council and the Central Military Commission to order Chinese troops to attack Taiwan if Beijing decides that future Taiwanese actions move too far toward the "fact" of independence.

The State Department said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would certainly bring up the anti-secession law with Chinese leaders if she visits Beijing, as is expected, next week.

Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters, however, that the issue did not come up when Rice spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) on Monday.

And there has been no immediate reaction in Congress, as the leadership is discussing how to respond to the Chinese law.

In the White House' first reaction to the anti-secession law's summary, spokesman Scott McClellan said, "we view it as unhelpful and something that runs counter to recent trends toward a warming in cross-strait relations."

"We would call on Beijing to reconsider passage of the law," which allows "punitive measures directed at Taiwan," he said in his daily press conference.

Regarding the law's provision that "legalizes" a Chinese military attack on Taiwan, McClellan said, "we oppose any attempts to determine the future of Taiwan by anything other than peaceful means."

"We believe there ought to be cross-strait dialogue," McClellan said. "That is why I pointed out that this law that was drafted and presented runs counter to that."

In Congress, the House leadership and the International Relations Committee are deliberating their legislative strategy in response to the law.

"There are many Republicans who are upset by some of China's recent actions toward Taiwan," an aide to the House Republican leadership told the Taipei Times. "We are currently talking with the [International Relations] Committee to see what action we should take to send a clear message to China."

Ohio Republican Steve Chabot, a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, introduced a resolution last month urging the Bush administration to "strongly oppose" the law and register its "grave concern" with Beijing.

But the bill was not included in a list of measures the committee had scheduled to approve Wednesday, and the committee has not given the go-ahead for the Chabot measure to go straight to the House floor for a vote under a special speed-up process.

It was not immediately clear whether the House leadership could come up with a way to consider the bill or an equivalent quickly.

On the military side, Admiral William Fallon, the newly-installed commander of the US forces in the Pacific, expressed concern about the law during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"It's disconcerting that this anti-secession law, as they call it, has been put forward, because I think it hardens the line, and it gives [China] apparently a legal basis of sorts for the potential for military action later on."

"So I don't think it's particularly useful to the idea that we would propose to lessen tensions between Taiwan and China," he said.

Fallon noted that he has been in his present post only ten days, and has not had a chance to study cross-strait issues closely. But he pledged to give the situation top priority.

"I've got it on the top of my list here to work on," he said. "We're going to be studying it hard to see if in fact there are things we can do to support a `de-tensioning' of this region."

Boucher expressed the department's unhappiness with the planned law, saying that from what the department can see, it "runs counter to recent trends toward a warming in cross-straits [sic] relations, and we would consider passage of this law unhelpful."

"Any attempt by a party to resolve this by other than peaceful means could be a threat to peace and security in the region," Boucher stressed.

Boucher said that the US government is continuing to talk to both Beijing and Taipei about the law.

"We continue to urge both sides to avoid steps that raise tension, and risk beginning a cycle or reaction and counteraction, which would make dialogue more difficult," he said.

And in a comment that could also be taken to refer to calls in Taiwan for a law to counter Beijing's planned legislation, Boucher had this to say:

"Two sides in different places passing laws or trying to define things is not the way this is going to be solved. this is going to be solved by the two sides getting together and talking to each other, through dialogue."

"It's a peaceful dialogue that we've always supported, that we think could be used to solve the problem, and that's where we'd like to see the parties expend their effort," Boucher said.

Ignoring the US' call for it to rethink the passage of the anti-secession law, China yesterday told its lawmakers it was their "solemn mission" to pass the legislation.

"Formulating the anti-secession law is a major event in China's political life," top legislater Wu Bangguo (吳邦國) was quoted by AFP as saying at the National People's Congress.

"The national legislature is sure to fulfill the solemn mission to do a good job in enacting the anti-secession law."

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