By Charles Snyder
Staff reporter in WASHINGTON
A top-level White House official, denying that the Bush administration has imposed a “freeze” on arms sales to Taiwan, on Wednesday reiterated the US’ commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan in its defense needs.
Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs, told reporters: “We continue to live up to that commitment. There are many engagements between the United States military and [the] Taiwan military. Nothing has been frozen in this relationship.”
Wilder made the statements in response to a question during a briefing on US President George W. Bush’s trip to Asia, at the end of which Bush will attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing next Friday.
Wilder’s comments came two days after he reportedly met with visiting Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a meeting that led Wang to say he was very “optimistic” about the US position on arms sales, although he received no word as to when the sales would go through.
“There is no change in America’s policy toward Taiwan,” Wilder said at the briefing. “I think there has been a misunderstanding in the press that somehow we have put this relationship on hold. That is not true. We continue to have very robust relations with the Taiwan military. We continue to assist them with their self-defense needs and that is the policy of the United States Government.”
On the arms sales packages, which have been on hold since last December, allegedly to avoid China’s disfavor at a time when the administration needs Beijing’s help in a number of foreign policy crises, Wilder said: “There are many discussions that take place at various levels with the Taiwan military on their military needs. We are evaluating those needs and we will notify Congress of our decisions on various arms sales at the appropriate times.”
Bush will leave for Asia on Tuesday and visit South Korea and Thailand before arriving in Beijing on Thursday for a four-day visit.
As part of the trip, Bush will hold a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), but Wilder declined to say whether the arms sales would be an issue that would come up during the meeting.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to hold the Bush administration’s feet to the fire when it comes to its deliberations on the current arms sales issue, seven members of the US House of Representatives, including some of Taiwan’s most ardent friends on the Hill, introduced legislation on Wednesday to require the administration to provide Congress “detailed briefings” on its deliberations.
The bill reflects the displeasure among representatives over the Bush administration’s rumored freeze and its failure to keep Congress fully informed of its thinking on Taiwan arms sales, congressional staffers involved in the legislation said.
The bill would require the secretaries of state and defense to give the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “detailed briefings” on a regular basis on the issue, starting three months after the bill is enacted into law and every four months thereafter.
The bill would include any discussions between Taiwan and the administration and “any potential transfer” of weapons systems to Taiwan.
The bill’s author, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican member of the House committee, has been a powerful supporter of Taiwan in the committee and has taken on a greater role since the death of former chairman Tom Lantos earlier this year.
The committee’s chairman, Howard Berman, is considered much less favorable to Taiwan’s interests than Lantos or Lantos’ predecessor, Henry Hyde.
Other co-sponsors include Tom Tancredo, perhaps one of Taiwan’s biggest champions in the House, and Shelley Berkley, a co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus.
The sponsors feel that by blocking the sales for political and foreign policy considerations, the administration has violated the letter of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which govern US relations with Taiwan.
The Act requires the US to supply arms to Taiwan in such amounts as the country needs to protect itself against a Chinese military attack.
Under the Act, in deciding whether to sell the arms, the US must make its decisions “based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan,” the bill says.
Congressional sources complain that the administration’s reported reasoning for the freeze, which includes concerns over China’s opposition, Bush’s impending trip to Beijing for the opening of the Olympics and the need for China’s cooperation in the North Korea nuclear stalemate, is a violation of the “based solely” mandate.
They also complain that a recent statement attributed to Admiral Timothy Keating, the commander of US forces in the Pacific, that the US consults with China about arms sales to Taiwan runs afoul of the Act and former president Ronald Reagan’s “six assurances” that the US would not discuss the arms with Beijing.
If the bill is taken up by the Foreign Affairs Committee, it probably would not happen before September, given the Congress’ impending month-long recess. That could coincide with the administration’s notification of Congress of its plan to sell any of the frozen packages, under the most optimistic timetable of supporters of the arms sales.
Also see: Hegemonism behind arms 'freeze'
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