Sun, Feb 08, 2004 - Page 3 News List

US unease caused by its duty to defend

CHINESE THREAT Senior US officials said that the US had to engage Taiwan 'fairly aggressively' over its cross-strait strategy, while affirming US help in case of conflict

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US concerns that the referendum called by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) might upset the status quo in the Taiwan Strait were a result of its legal obligation to help fend off any Chinese attack, two top US officials told a congressional panel on Friday.

At the same time, the officials slammed China's deployment of some 500 ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan as a clear attempt by Beijing at intimidation, and called the action a serious threat to cross-strait stability.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randall Schriver and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless were speaking during a hearing of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on military modernization and the cross-strait military balance.

Both cited a provision in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 that requires the US to "maintain the capacity ... to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion" by China against Taiwan.

US President George W. Bush warned Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) privately during their White House meeting in December that "if there is a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, it's very likely we'll be involved," Schriver told the commission.

So, while the act was not a "formal defense treaty," Schriver said, "questions about our involvement and questions about our obligations I think lead us in the direction that we do have to be very mindful of how we're prepared" in case of a flare-up between the two sides.

The provision in the act, Lawless added, had made it "incumbent upon us to encourage the Taiwanese to do what they need to do to dissuade China to the maximum extent possible from taking risks that they otherwise would not take" to settle cross-strait conflict by "non-peaceful means or coercive means."

The US' "charge is to engage the Taiwanese fairly aggressively" in this regard, he said.

Yet, "If deterrence fails, Taiwan, supported by the US and its allies, must be prepared to swiftly defeat [China's] use of force," he said.

He urged Taiwan to develop a "national will" and bring about "improved national consensus" over the need to develop military capabilities to deal with any use of force.

It was the legal obligation contained in the act that led Washington to be so firm in pushing Taiwan to come up with the money to buy the weapons systems which Bush agreed to sell in April 2001, the two said.

Arguing that the US has a "direct equity" in the Taiwan Strait, Schriver said: "If there are steps [the Taiwanese] don't take, there are scenarios under which [we] are presented with filling that gap."

Consequently, "it's important that we help shape the debate in Taiwan," Schriver said.

Lawless said that China's missile buildup was just one part of the growing military threat that China posed as a result of its military modernization in recent years.

This modernization, Lawless said, "casts a cloud over Beijing's declared preference for resolving differences" peacefully.

"The modernization is focused on exploiting vulnerabilities in Taiwan's national- and operational-level command and control systems, its integrated air-defense system and reliance on sea lines for communications," he said.

As China rapidly modernizes its military, "Taiwan's relative military strength will deteriorate, unless it makes significant investments into its defense," Lawless warned.

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