The US House of Representatives, signaling an intensifying dispute with the administration of US President George W. Bush over Taiwan policy, approved without opposition on Tuesday a resolution urging the administration to end its resistance to the sale of advanced F-16C/D fighter aircraft to Taipei.
It was the second rebuke that the House has sent to the administration over Taiwan policy in just over two months, and reflects growing disquiet not only within the majority Democratic Party, but also among many of Bush's closest conservative Republican soul mates in Congress.
On July 30, the House unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Bush administration to allow President Chen Shui-bian (
Like the current bill, the visitation resolution passed the House under rules that speed its consideration. In the case of the F-16 bill, the House approved it less than a week after it was introduced into the legislative hopper.
That was because the defense bill passed by the Legislative Yuan, which provided US$488 million as a downpayment for the purchase of 66 fighters, called for the funds to be withdrawn if the Bush administration failed to provide price and availability data by Oct. 31.
While Taiwan supporters hope that the rapid House action might make the timely provision of that information possible, they are not optimistic.
Representative to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said he could not tell if the latest congressional action would affect administration policy. But he did note that only two weeks after the House approved the resolution calling for Chen to be allowed to visit Washington, the administration restricted the Taiwanese president to making transit stops in Alaska on a trip to and from Central America.
"So the administration might not always do the things that Congress wants," Wu said.
Nevertheless, he said, "we really hope that the United States can sell Taiwan the F-16s."
"And I'm very glad that Congress, based on its long friendship and support for Taiwan, passed that resolution, and I express our deep, deep appreciation to the American Congress for doing that," he added.
"I think this shows to the public here in the United States as well as the public in Taiwan that we have substantial support in the US, the congressional branch of the government, and they're concerned about Taiwan's defense needs and concerned about the treatment of the Taiwan government," Wu said.
The resolution was based on the mandates of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, which requires that the US supply Taiwan with sufficient armaments to ensure its defense, and that decisions on these sales be based solely on Taiwan's military needs.
Supporters of the bill charged that the administration is violating the TRA by blocking the sale of the F-16s sales for political reasons -- specifically, Taipei's planned referendum on a UN membership bid using the name "Taiwan" and other "controversial" actions taken by Chen.
"The [House] resolution simply says the executive branch should follow the law," said Ted Poe, who like Bush is a Texas Republican, in a floor speech supporting the bill.
"Despite Taiwan's needs, the United States is refusing to respond to Taiwan's entirely legitimate requirements for military sales. In doing so ... The Taiwan Relations Act is obviously being ignored," Poe said.
Poe also claimed that Bush is kowtowing to China: "Any US sale at any time will be objected to by the Chinese Communist regime."
"Should that affect our commitment to the stability of the Taiwan Strait? Are we timid because of China? Likewise, should our defense commitment to Taiwan be held hostage to a clash of personalities, the political season in Taiwan or Washington's desire to accommodate Beijing?" he asked.
Representative Shelley Berkley, a cochair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, said: "We must give Taiwan arms to defend itself, safeguard its expansion of democracy on that island and in its region in the coming years."
"Taiwan is a vibrant democracy, a trusted ally, a strategic partner of the United States. It is imperative that we signal our support for the world to see that America stands with its fellow democracies and will defend them against any threat of military aggression," she said.
Representative Tom Tancredo called the vote "a clear rebuke" to the Bush administration.
"It demonstrates the growing gulf between the expanded engagement and friendship with Taiwan that Congress wants to see, and the negative and destructive direction in which the State Department bureaucracy is unfortunately dragging the US-Taiwan relationship," he said.
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