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Pentagon Issues Warning to China
U.S. Officials Criticize Beijing's Broadening of Reasons to Use Force Against Taiwan

By Steven Mufson and Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 23, 2000; Page A16

A top Pentagon official yesterday warned China that it would face "incalculable consequences" if it followed through on threats to use force against Taiwan.

The stern warning came in response to a Chinese government "white paper" that broadened the reasons Beijing would consider sufficient for using force against the self-governing island.

Walter B. Slocombe, an undersecretary of defense who returned this week from high-level talks in Beijing on strategic issues, said the Chinese policy statement, "if it says what it appears to say, is a new and troubling formula."

Several members of Congress also reacted angrily to China's threat. "The white paper comments are unacceptable," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. "There is no other way to put it. And I think many of us are surprised by the bluntness and inappropriateness of this particular challenge."

U.S. officials were particularly taken aback by the policy statement because China issued it Monday, only six or seven hours after Slocombe, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and other top U.S. officials had left Beijing. During wide-ranging talks, the Americans had urged China to show restraint in the weeks leading up to Taiwan's presidential elections in March. China gave the officials no hint that it was about to revise its Taiwan policy.

"It is important for China not to do anything that will add to tension in the Taiwan Strait, and to allow [Taiwan's] elections to go forward and a new government to form its own policy," Slocombe said in an interview yesterday.

In the past, China has said that it might use force if Taiwan formally declared independence or was occupied by a foreign power. In the white paper, Beijing added that it would also consider force to be justified if Taiwan's authorities refused indefinitely "the peaceful settlement of cross-straits reunification through negotiations."

Though Chinese officials have privately told U.S. officials of their impatience about reunifying democratic Taiwan with the communist mainland, U.S. officials have argued that public threats only make a peaceful agreement less likely. The new policy document, one administration official said yesterday, shows that "China runs the risk of misjudging both the politics of Taiwan and the politics of the United States."

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who sponsored recent legislation to boost military coordination between the United States and Taiwan, said the white paper "will, in my view, only serve to further convince Congress that Taiwan needs America's full and unreserved support."

But congressional leaders said it would not affect an impending vote to grant China permanent "normal trade relations" status as part of China's joining the World Trade Organization.

"People see this [the trade agreement] as much more in America's interest than China's interest" and believe expanded trade is the best way to encourage reforms in China, said Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.).

"I don't think [China's threat] directly affects [the China trade vote], but it's not helpful," added Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

"It's very alarming, and the alarm is universally felt in our [Republican] caucus," Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the white paper. "Many of us would like to see trade relations go forward, but we are also sympathetic toward the democratic government in Taiwan and don't want to see them bullied into reunification."

Smith raised the possibility that the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, already passed by the House, could be added to the trade bill on the floor of the Senate, greatly complicating passage.

The security legislation would bolster U.S. military exchanges with Taiwan and force the administration to inform Congress about details of Taiwan's requests for arms sales, which would result in greater pressure for such sales. The Clinton administration is strongly opposed to the measure.

Nevertheless, Slocombe said yesterday that future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, frequently deplored by Beijing, would depend on Taiwan's defensive needs, as set out in agreements with China two decades ago. "We're committed by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself," Slocombe said. "That relates to what kind of threat Taiwan is facing. The ability of China's military is an important factor in what we decide to sell."

Separately, in testimony before the Asia-Pacific subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Stanley Roth said he believes "there are requirements on Taiwan's side that need to be addressed, and there will be recommendations, and you will see additional sales."

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

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