US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairperson of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, has issued a stern warning to US Vice President Joe Biden not to discuss arms sales to Taiwan while he is in China this week.
The warning came in a letter that was hand-delivered to Biden just before he boarded a plane to Beijing from Washington on Tuesday.
It followed a firm promise issued earlier in the week by the White House that arms sales would not be discussed and reflected suspicion in Congress that the administration of US President Barack Obama is being unduly influenced by Chinese sentiment on the arms sale question.
Ros-Lehtinen also used her letter to express support for Taiwan in its request to buy 66 F-16C/D aircraft from the US.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has already promised that a decision on the sale will be announced before Oct. 1.
Despite recent reports from Taipei to the contrary, US officials continue to insist that as of this week no decision has yet been made.
“I wish to address an issue of utmost concern to the Congress as you prepare to depart on your Asian trip, with a first stop in Beijing,” Ros-Lehtinen wrote to Biden.
“It involves the pending question of arms sales to Taiwan, as congressionally-mandated in the Taiwan Relations Act. The immediate issue involves the provision of the next generation of F-16 fighters and diesel [-electric] submarines to Taipei,” she wrote.
She said there had been considerable press speculation that Biden would discuss the arms issue in Beijing and that some in Taipei could perceive such talks as “undermining an old friend and ally.”
“Any discussion of Taiwan’s defense needs with its likely adversary would violate the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act and the letter of the Six Assurances. Further, it is of grave concern that the administration may be discussing these critical issues with Chinese Communist officials before fully informing the US Congress,” Ros-Lehtinen added.
She emphasized that the stakes in this instance were “extremely high,” because the Asia-Pacific region would be the main hub of global economic activity in the coming century, and the US and its allies must be firmly situated there to maintain the peace and prosperity “on which the entire world depends.”
Reminding Biden that the latest Pentagon report on Taiwan concluded that the balance of cross-strait military forces continued to shift in China’s favor, Ros-Lehtinen warned that without the necessary weapons to defend itself Taiwan would “gradually be consumed into Beijing’s hegemonic orbit.”
“The loss of Taiwan would be seen by our friends and allies in the region, including South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Australia, as a signal of American disengagement and Chinese ascendancy in the Pacific,” she wrote.
An incident in late June in which a Chinese fighter aircraft crossed the centerline of the Taiwan Strait in pursuit of a US surveillance plane demonstrated, the “emboldened attitude” of the Chinese military, she said.
“Without the new generation of F-16 fighters, the skies above Taiwan could be compromised and US planes could be greatly impaired in future reconnaissance missions over the Taiwan Strait,” Ros-Lehtinen wrote.
“I respectively urge restraint in any discussions on Taiwan while you are in China, specifically the US response to Taiwan’s defense needs and other security requirements,” she said.