The US criticized China’s missile buildup along the Taiwan Strait on Thursday and said Washington would continue to sell arms to Taiwan to bolster its defense needs.
“We continue to express concern about the Mainland’s ongoing military build-up on its side of the Strait,” US Deputy Secretary of State John Negoponte told a congressional hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on China-US relations.
“We view China’s build-up as unnecessary and counterproductive. The anxiety it breeds on Taiwan encourages pro-independent inclinations that the Mainland’s missile deployment purports to deter,” said Negroponte, who testified for more than an hour at the hearing, the first the committee has held on China since the Democrats took control of the US Congress last year.
Beijing has repeatedly warned of an invasion should Taiwan declare formal independence.
In his New Year address this year, outgoing President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) warned that China had increased the number of tactical ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan from 200 in 2000 to more than 1,300.
In a warning to Beijing against the use of force, Negroponte said, “we want cross-strait differences to be resolved peacefully and according to the wishes of the people on both sides of the Strait.”
“Nobody should question our resolve in insisting on such a peaceful process,” he said.
Negroponte said Washington would “continue to sell Taiwan defensive arms to maintain the capacity to assist in Taiwan’s defense if needed.”
The US is obliged by law to offer Taiwan a means of self-defense if its security is threatened and is the leading arms supplier to the country, despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Aside from the legal obligation, Negroponte said the arms sales also “supports our belief that a Taiwan confident and capable of protecting itself will offer the best prospects for a peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences.”
While Negroponte broke no new ground during the hearing on US policy toward Taiwan, however, he referred to Taiwan as “a country” at least twice during the afternoon hearing.
Negroponte, however, told the hearing that the US will not allow Taiwan to buy advanced versions of the F-16 fighter jets any time soon.
His comments came in response to questions by Republican members of the committee.
Committee chairman Joseph Biden did not mention Taiwan in his opening statement or in his questions. It is believed that he has been pushing for a chance at being secretary of state should the Democrats win the White House in November.
“There are no present plans to offer the F-16s to Taiwan,” Negroponte said in response to a question by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, a ranking minority member of the East Asia subcommittee.
Negroponte said that the Legislative Yuan “just recently” decided to seek the aircraft and voted initial funding for it, but said “there hasn’t been any subsequent step.”
In fact, the legislature approved US$488 million to begin the procurement process in the middle of last year, a commitment that assumed the US would accept a letter of request and provide purchasing data by last Oct. 31. The State Department barred the Pentagon from accepting the request letter by that deadline, causing the funding commitment to lapse.
The department has continued to bar the request from proceeding, although the Pentagon is known to want the sale to go through.
Pressed by Murkowski about the issue, Negroponte said: “It is not an offer at this particular time.”
Noting the presidential election in Taiwan, he added: “They are in the middle of a political transition in Taiwan, so we’ll have to await developments there.”
Murkowski complained that she had sent a letter on the F-16s to national security advisor Stephen Hadley in October, but had not received a response.
On Taiwan’s incoming administration, Negroponte said the US looked forward to working with Taiwan and the incoming administration of president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on the basis of the Taiwan Relations Act and the three US-China communiques.
“With the inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou on May 20 we will have safely navigated a tense period in cross-strait relations,” he said.
Additional reporting by AFP
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