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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

BMD Dimension to Controversial New US Legislation on Taiwan

On February 1, the House of Representatives voted, by 341 votes to 70, to support bill H.R. 1838, the "Taiwan Security Enhancement Act". The measure would require the US, in violation of a 1979 US-China diplomatic accord, to establish formal military-to-military links with Taiwan, increase US training of Taiwanese military personnel, and grant Congress new powers in determining arms sales to the country. Although the legislation, which now moves to the Senate, is a diluted version of a draft specifying sales of ballistic missile defence (BMD) equipment as well as submarines and advanced radar systems, it remains entirely unacceptable to both China and the White House, not least because it continues to stress the "separate and distinct" nature of Taiwan and China, in direct contradiction to the 'one China' policy of successive US Administrations and in clear support of Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's recent articulation of a "two-state theory." A White House statement (February 1) noted: "The bill would mandate a number of new security and military arrangements with Taiwan that could create dangerous, false and inaccurate expectations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait." Using remarkable language, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (February 2) compared the legislation to a "nuclear weapon" capable of destroying "25 years of stability and peace on Taiwan." In Beijing on February 2, US Ambassador James Prueher was summoned to hear a "stern representation" over the House vote delivered by Yang Jiechi, Vice Minister of Foreign affairs. According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement:

"Mt. Yang stressed that the Chinese side strongly demands the US Government...fully recognize the serious damage the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act could inflict…and take immediate action to prevent the bill from becoming law… Moreover, the US should halt immediately its sales of sophisticated weapons, equipment and technologies to Taiwan in strict accordance with the China-US Joint Communiqué of August 17, 1982 on US arms sales to Taiwan."

Proponents of the Act claim that it is merely a response top an aggressive Chinese military build-up - a view naturally shared by the Taiwanese Government. On the day the bill was passed, Taiwan's Defence Minister, Tang Fei, told a news conference: "Our defense capacity is pretty limited… We don't have any motives for launching an attack. But to build up our defence, we need to have some offensive capability." Taiwan has also made clear it is anxious to deploy a ballistic missile defence system - a prospect that worries not only China but also Russia. On February 4, the Russian Foreign Ministry gave its official reaction to the House legislation, observing:

"It is noteworthy that, by the results of last year, the island moved into first place on the list of US arms buyers. Taipei has decided to bring up its military spending…to 3% of the island's gross national product. Taiwanese authorities have allocated $9.5 billion for setting up its own anti-missile defence system. … The adoption, against this background, of an enactment that expands the possibilities of Taiwan in the military sphere is unlikely to help improve relations between the two sides of [the] Taiwan Strait and the situation in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole."

Reports: Taiwan to build anti-missile shield, Associated press, February 1; Gilman on Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, H.R. 1838, United States Information Service, February 2; Stern representation made by Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, February 2; Pro-Taiwan bill moves to Senate, Associated Press, February 2; Clinton backs Beijing over Taiwan ties, BBC News Online, February 3; House votes on the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, Centre for Defense Information (CDI) Weekly Defense Monitor (Volume 4, Issue 5), February 3; Russian Foreign Ministry statement, February 4.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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