House Votes to Strengthen Military Ties
Feb. 1 -- The House voted overwhelmingly today to expand
military ties between Taiwan and the United States, a move
that China and the Clinton administration warned could aggravate
regional tensions and jeopardize a landmark trade agreement.
The bill, approved by a bipartisan vote of 341 to 70, calls
for the United States to establish direct military communications
between Washington and Taipei, expand American training
of Taiwan military officers and conduct an annual review
on threats to Taiwan's security.
the provisions of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act are
more symbolic than substantive -- American administrations
have been empowered to give Taiwan military aid for more
than two decades -- moving toward more formal military relations
could have damaging diplomatic consequences with China.
If enacted, critics said, the bill would upset Washington's
deliberately ambiguous "one China" policy, which treats
Taiwan as a part of China and recognizes Beijing as China's
capital, but also allows the United States to provide Taiwan
with defensive weaponry.
would bring about very serious damage to China-U.S. relations,"
Yu Shuning, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy here, said
in a telephone interview. Beijing, which has regarded Taiwan
as a renegade province since the defeated Chinese Nationalists
fled there in 1949, has not renounced the use of force to
achieve eventual reunification.
senior Republicans, led by Representative Tom DeLay of Texas,
the powerful majority whip, chose the security measure as
the first major bill for floor consideration this year precisely
because it would challenge China. The measure marked
the opening salvo in what is likely to be a contentious
series of votes involving China in this campaign-compressed
year. It was a popular bill with Mr. DeLay's conservative
base as well as with many Democrats. And it sought to paint
Republicans as champions of democratic Taiwan, while leaving
the administration to appear more interested in trade benefits
with rival China.
Opposition from Democrats and some Republicans last fall
had forced the bill's sponsors to strip out its most contentious
language, including authorization to sell Taiwan specific
weapons like missile defenses, air-to-air missiles and diesel-powered
those changes in mind, 140 Democrats felt free today to
join 200 Republicans and 1 independent in saluting Taiwan's
democratic government and its formidable lobby here.
"This is far less confrontational than the original legislation,"
said Representative Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, the senior
Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.
Administration officials said they were saving their lobbying
fire for the Senate, where the watered-down version still
faces stiff opposition and possible defeat. Senator
Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, who is a
strong supporter of Taiwan, urged caution against complicating
United States-China relations. "We should proceed with due
diligence," he said.
Clinton's national security aides have advised him to veto
the measure if Congress approves it, arguing that it goes
well beyond the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. That measure
allows the United States to arm Taiwan with defensive weapons
and implicitly commits Washington to defend Taiwan against
The administration had backed up its commitment to Taiwan
in recent years. The Pentagon dispatched two aircraft carrier
battle groups toward the region in 1996 after China fired
missiles near Taiwan. Between 1994 and 1998 alone, Mr. Gejdenson
said, the United States approved $2 billion in arms to Taipei.
But the timing of the bill is a major headache for the administration,
especially as American officials have tried to mend relations
with China since the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia
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
Straits," said an administration policy statement.
But an influential Taiwanese lobbyist said the vote would
play well among the candidates in the presidential elections
in Taiwan next month, although security as taken a back
seat in the campaign to other issues like coruption.
"Symbolically, Congress has sent a very strong signal to
the people of Taiwan that the U.S. is committed to their
security," said Wenyen Chen, president of the Formosan Association
for Public Affairs, a lobbying group for Taiwan.
vote followed nearly two hours of sometimes sharp debate
on the House floor. Supporters, led by Mr. DeLay, said the
measure clarified and reaffirmed Washington's commitment
to Taiwan's security in the face of a Chinese military buildup.
"Given the volatility of the situation in the Taiwan Straits,
any mixed signals by our government can easily be read by
the Communist Chinese as complacency," Mr. DeLay said.
But critics said the bill was unnecessary and counterproductive,
and could create a new barrier to a vote later this year
on granting China permanent trade benefits.
"It will do nothing -- repeat, nothing -- to enhance Taiwan's
security," said Representative Tom Lantos, a California
Democrat. "It will stir up a hornet's nest in the region."
of the Taiwan bill disputed fears by some lawmakers that
the measure could imperil the vote on China's trade benefits,
a step American and Chinese negotiators agreed to last November
that cleared the way for China's entry into the World Trade
Organization. "Friends of Taiwan should have no fear
of our greater trade with China, just as those who want
more trade with China should not object to us helping Taiwan,"
said Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the majority leader.
Even before the vote today, trade was on the minds of Congressional
leaders who met with Mr. Clinton to discuss the budget.
Mr. Armey said Republicans and Democrats agreed to hold
the China vote as early as possible, before election politics
gets in the way.
"Probably it would be more difficult later in the year because
politics gets more intense later in the year," Mr. Armey
said at his weekly news conference.
But Congressional leaders said that it may be difficult
to call up the bill before May because of continuing trade
negotiations between the European Union and China, and because
Congress will have to hold hearings on the issue before
Republicans stressed to Mr. Clinton that he needed to step
up his efforts to persuade House Democrats to vote for the
measure if he wants to see China become a member of the
World Trade Organization. Supporters are trying to muster
at least 100 votes among the 211 House Democrats.
Jake Siewert, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Clinton
has already started working to win the trade vote. In addition,
the business community has started its own $6 million lobbying
campaign to get the measure approved. Earlier in the
day, Senator Lott predicted that the trade measure would
pass if conditions were right.
"I think we're going to do it," Mr. Lott said at a United
States Chamber of Commerce breakfast. "But China's going
to have to watch its conduct.
And the president's going to have to weigh in aggressively
with the Democratic leadership."