The US House of Representatives unanimously approved a sweeping measure that calls on China to dismantle its missiles aimed at Taiwan, urges US President George W. Bush to approve the sale of the AEGIS battle management system to Taipei and directs Bush to seek from China an immediate renunciation of the use of force against Taiwan.
The bill was unanimously approved Tuesday evening without debate as an amendment to a bill that funds State Department programs for fiscal 2004, which begins Oct. 1.
"Grave concerns exist concerning the deployment by the People's Republic of China of hundreds of ballistic missiles directed toward Taiwan, which threaten the security and stability in the Taiwan Strait," the House bill says.
"The president should direct all appropriate United States officials to raise these concerns with the appropriate officials from the People's Republic of China, and should seek a public, immediate, and unequivocal renunciation from the leaders of the People's Republic of China of any threat or use of force against Taiwan," says the measure, which was introduced by Democrat Robert Andrews and six other representatives.
The bill also asserts that Taiwan's future should be determined peacefully and "with the express consent of the people of Taiwan."
The buildup of China's missiles arrayed across the Taiwan Strait, now estimated by US officials at some 450, is the main focus of the measure.
"China should dismantle the missiles that threaten Taiwan, otherwise the president should authorize the sale of the AEGIS system to Taiwan, which would enable Taiwan to defend itself against the threat of a missile attack by China," the measure says.
Bush withheld the sale of Arleigh-Burke destroyers armed with the sophisticated AEGIS radar-based system from Taiwan when he approved a massive weapons sale to Taipei in April 2001.
The Pentagon recently approved the parameters of the transfer of the technology needed to deploy and operate AEGIS, along with a plan to sell the four destroyers, which would act as the platform for the system, but that decision has not been endorsed by the White House, sources say.
The White House officials have been put off by Taiwan's tight military budget and its failure to appropriate funds to buy the substantial number of weapon systems included in 2001's weapons package.
The four destroyers would cost US$6 billion, in addition to the billions needed to buy the diesel submarines, Kidd-class destroyers, and other systems included in the package.
According to sources, if the White House gave the go-ahead to the AEGIS sale, and Taiwan could finance the purchases, the first destroyer could be commissioned as early as 2008.
That would coincide with the period in which US military analysts have told Taiwanese officials that China might have sufficient capability to launch a military attack on Taiwan, perhaps after China hosts the Summer Olympic Games that year.
Lockheed Martin would design the AEGIS radar system and technology, and Raytheon would build the needed missiles. While the ships would most likely be built in the US, some sources speculate that Taiwan-built warships could be fitted with the systems.
In addition, the House also approved a measure requiring the secretary of state to send Congress a report by April 1 each year on how the administration plans to obtain observer status for Taiwan in the annual meetings of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.