Obama urged to stand firm on Taiwan

USUAL SUSPECTS::A group of human rights advocates and China specialists are urging Obama to demonstrate the US commitment to human rights during the US-China summit

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in WASHINGTON

Sat, Jan 15, 2011 - Page 3

The four co-chairs of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus in the US have written to US President Barack Obama urging him to keep Taiwan’s “vital security interests” in mind during next week’s summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).

“In the event that matters concerning Taiwan are raised, we further urge you to emphasize to President Hu that the US position remains clear … the United States will support Taiwan’s security and will continue to provide it with arms, as required under the Taiwan Relations Act,” the letter says.

It is signed by Shelley Berkley, a Democrat from Nevada; Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat; Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican; and Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has engaged in a large scale military build-up over the past few years and has not abandoned the threat of force, with 1,000 missiles pointed directly at Taiwan,” the letter says.

“It is of the utmost importance that President Hu understands the US’s firm commitment to ensuring that Taiwan has tools it needs to defend itself,” it says.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell has just arrived back in Washington from talks in Beijing, where he was trying to work out a final joint statement to be issued by Hu and Obama after their meeting on Wednesday.

A Congressional source close to the White House said the statement had yet to be finalized.

The source would not confirm it, but there were rumors going around Washington that one of the sticking points concerned wording about Taiwan.

“There’s no final decision yet on what the joint statement will say. The White House will be looking to avoid problematic language,” Foreign Policy magazine’s Josh Rogin said.

“Recognizing that US-China relations have been increasingly strained since China cut off military-to-military ties last February [over arms sales to Taiwan], both sides are seeking a visit that highlights what’s positive in the relationship and sets the stage for a warming of ties in the summit’s wake,” he said.

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times wrote this week that a new showdown was looming between China and the US over arms sales to Taiwan.

“The Obama administration privately has decided to sell a new arms package to the island, but is keeping details secret until after next week’s visit,” he wrote.

Gertz said he was told by a senior Obama administration official that the package includes equipment to upgrade Taiwan’s 145 F-16A/B fighter aircraft with new electronics, engines and missiles worth as much as US$4 billion.

“Defense sources said Taiwan’s request to buy more modern F-16s is still being considered, but the upgrade package is assured,” Gertz wrote.

Senior Pentagon and White House officials approached by the Taipei Times refused to confirm the deal. However, if such a deal went through, it would almost certainly propel US-China relations to a new low.

Meanwhile, a group of human rights advocates and China specialists are urging Obama to demonstrate the US’ commitment to human rights during his summit with Hu.

The groups, including Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, want Obama to show that he “takes seriously the multiple challenges posed by the Chinese government’s stand on human rights.”