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Sat, Nov 25, 2000 - Page 4 News List

New head of US House committee may favor Taiwan

POLITICAL RELATIONS Of the three people who could take over the influential House International Relations Committee, Republican Doug Bereuter seems to have the best chance of getting the job. His views on Taiwan may be the most supportive

By Charles Snyder  /  WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

The race to become the next chairman of the powerful House International Relations Committee of the US Congress is underway, and the decision could have an important impact on the committee's attitude toward Taiwan and China issues.

The current chairman, New Jersey Republican Benjamin Gilman, one of the strongest Taiwan supporters in Congress, must leave the post at the end of this session of Congress under a 1994 House rule that limits committee chairmen's terms to six years.

Standing in the wings are three Representatives with the highest seniority among Republican committee members: Jim Leach of Iowa, Henry Hyde of Illinois and Doug Bereuter of Nebraska. Of the three, Bereuter and Hyde appear to stand the best chance of succeeding Gilman, congressional staffers say.

The chances for Leach and Hyde would suffer by a provision in the rule, which bars committee chairmen bumped by the term limits from chairing another committee. Leach is the chairman of the Banking and Financial Services Committee and Hyde heads the Judiciary committee, where he spearheaded the drive to impeach President Clinton.

Bereuter now heads the Asia and the Pacific subcommittee of the International Relations panel. In that position he has been a firm backer of Taiwan's interests, but he is also considered a moderate in China affairs in view of the fact that his district is a major exporter of grain to the mainland.

Bereuter and Hyde have mounted spirited campaigns for the chairmanship post, whose fate will be decided by the GOP House leadership. The leadership is scheduled to interview the candidates in mid-December, and will vote on the chairmanship in the first week of January.

As head of the Asia subcommittee, Bereuter has become one of the House's leading experts on China, Taiwan and the region. His chances for the chairmanship were enhanced last year when the House leadership promised him the committee if he gave up a run for the Senate, which may cost the GOP his firm Republican seat in the House.

This past year, he authored a bill that provided US$75 million for new facilities for the American Institute in Taiwan, America's unofficial embassy in Taipei, in a move he said underscored Washington's long-term commitment to Taiwan.

"Now is the appropriate time to send another message of our unshakeable, long-term commitment to our critically important relations with Taiwan," he said during the committee's vote on the bill. "We are there in Taipei for as long as it takes.

"It is very important that we make it crystal clear to the PRC and the world that we are calmly, but resolutely, standing at the side of Taiwan, providing for the sale of necessary defensive weapons to it to defend itself against any hostile or coercive action to force its re-unification with the PRC through any process that is not a peaceful no-coercive one," he said.

However, he was also the lawmaker who rewrote the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) during the year to eliminate several of the provisions that committed the US to aid Taiwan with arms sales and cooperation, over concerns that the provisions could fly in the face of the Taiwan Relations Act and alienate Beijing.

The original bill, as drafted by Jesse Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would authorize the president to provide a Theater Missile Defense system to Taiwan and sell to the island a number of major weapons systems, including AEGIS destroyers, advanced air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), diesel submarines, airborne warning and control systems (AWACs) and anti-submarine systems. It would also envision close cooperation between the American and Taiwan militaries, including secure direct communications links.

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