Bush's remarks on Taiwan cause stir

Thursday, April 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush has changed nothing in U.S. China policy, the White House and State Department are insisting. But on Capitol Hill, nobody seems quite sure exactly what he did.

Some lawmakers said his remarks that the United States can use military force in Taiwan's defense negated traditional ambiguity in U.S. policy while acknowledging that there is but one China.

Others said even if that's what he did, the time for ambiguity is over.

``Ambiguity never was any good,'' Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a longtime foe of China's communist-led government, said Wednesday. In all of this, the White House and the State Department asserted Bush's comments represented no change in policy toward China and Taiwan, the island in the Taiwan Strait that Beijing considers a renegade province.

``The Taiwan Relations Act makes very clear that the United States has an obligation that Taiwan's peaceful way of life is not upset by force,'' said Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser. That 1979 law is the basis of the one-China policy and specifies how it is to be carried out.

``What (Bush) said clearly is how seriously and resolutely he takes this obligation. A secure Taiwan will be better able to engage in cross-strait dialogue,'' Rice said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Thursday ``the Chinese government and people are strongly indignant and opposed'' to Bush's remarks. Bush's comments, on the heels of approving a new arms sale to Taiwan, indicate the United States ``has drifted further on a dangerous road,'' Zhang said.

``There is only one China in the world. Taiwan is part of China. It is not a protectorate of any foreign country,'' she said.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Catherine Chang, read a statement saying: ``We affirm the United States' effort and determination to safeguard the security across the Taiwan Strait and in the Asian Pacific region. But we Taiwanese must understand that to enhance our security, we must build up our own defenses.''

Bush touched off the stir Wednesday in a succession of press interviews to mark his first 100 days in office, which end Sunday. In one he said America would do ``whatever it took'' to help Taiwan defend itself. Later he softened that a little by saying U.S. military force would be ``certainly an option'' if China should invade Taiwan.

He added into the mix his decision to let Taiwan buy more weapons than ever, although he deleted from its wish list the top item: four Arleigh Burke class destroyers with state-of-the-art Aegis combat control systems.

For decades, U.S. administrations have been purposely hazy on whether the United States would go to war with China over Taiwan, as opposed to arming Taiwan well enough to enable the island to defend itself.

``We have been deliberately vague about the circumstances under which we would come to Taiwan's defense, not only to discourage Taiwan from drawing us in by declaring independence but also to deter a Chinese attack by keeping Beijing guessing,'' Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

He said Bush's comments suggested the president abandoned the policy with ``absolutely no consultation with members of Congress or with our allies in the region.''

Kerry said the Taiwan Relations Act does not commit the United States to defend Taiwan but rather to provide the island with equipment needed to defend itself.

Kerry's fellow Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, sided with the Republican president and said it was time to ``go beyond'' the old ambiguous approach.

``I think the president's straightforward, courageous and unambiguous statement will guarantee that hostility in the Taiwan Strait will not take place,'' Lantos said at a House International Relations subcommittee hearing.

Californian Rohrabacher, long an advocate of stricter policies toward China, agreed in a telephone interview that ambiguity ``did nothing but leave a question mark in the mind of potential enemies as to what they could get away with and what they couldn't.''

But Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., said Bush's comment _ coming on top of his announcement that he'll do away with annual reviews of Taiwan arms sales _ only raises more questions about U.S. policy.

``I fear that in the course of two days we have moved from deliberate strategic ambiguity to strategic confusion,'' Ackerman said.

``The president's attempts to be clear about Taiwan will be seen within China as further provocation and support for Taiwan's independence,'' he said. ``Is that what the president is encouraging?''

The most recent use of the U.S. military in Taiwan's defense was in 1996, when former President Clinton sent warships into the area after China began firing missiles in the direction of the island in what Beijing said were military exercises.