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   Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA)

House Votes for Stronger Military Ties to Taiwan
Administration Says Move Could Upset China Balance

By Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson- Washington Post Staff Writers

Wednesday, February 2, 2000; Page A10

In a broad bipartisan vote, the House voted yesterday to strengthen military ties with Taiwan, brushing aside objections by the Clinton administration and warnings from the Chinese government.  The 341 to 70 vote in favor of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act was a stinging rebuke to the White House, which had argued that the measure could actually undermine Taiwan's security by upsetting the diplomatic balance that had been in place ever since the United States established diplomatic relations with China more than two decades ago. But House members, alarmed by allegations of a Chinese missile buildup on its southern coast near Taiwan and concerned about Chinese military modernization plans, voted to show support for the self-governing democratic island that Beijing regards as part of China.

"If we love freedom, we must protect democratic Taiwan," said House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.).  The vote opened a political balancing act in Congress, as members look for vehicles to make themselves look tough on China while leaving themselves room to support China's admission to the World Trade Organization with a vote granting Beijing permanent "normal trading relations" status with the United States.  Congressional leaders told President Clinton yesterday that he will have to work hard to win passage for the trade measure, a top administration priority. After an hour-long White House meeting, lawmakers told reporters they warned the president that a substantial number of House Democratic votes will be needed for the WTO measure.  We said, 'In order for that to succeed, you're really going to have to put your shoulder to the wheel,' " said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). He said Clinton "indicated he would try."
But yesterday the administration convinced only 60 Democrats and 10 Republicans to oppose the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act.

The bill, drafted by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), would allow senior U.S. military officials to coordinate with Taiwanese military officers, establish secure communications links between the two nations' militaries and require the administration to report on both Taiwan's security needs and the U.S. ability to respond to an attack against Taiwan. The bill would give Congress a more direct role in deciding what weapons are sold to Taiwan.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and the U.S. ambassador to China, retired Adm. Joseph Prueher, all made telephone calls from abroad in the past few days in an unsuccessful effort to keep the margin small enough to sustain a presidential veto.
"This 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," said a statement released by the White House.

While supporters of the measure face a tougher fight in the Senate, proponents said that the overwhelming House vote could give the measure momentum in the other chamber, especially at a time when many members are looking for political cover for the WTO vote. "They cannot ignore a huge vote like this," DeLay said.
"We have concerns that this could prompt a strong reaction from Beijing and throw all positive opportunities down the drain," said a senior State Department official, who said it could torpedo chances for dialogue between Beijing and Taipei after Taiwan's March presidential elections. "We hope that the Senate will think twice and recognize that this is not a free vote, a symbolic vote. This has real consequences," the official said.

Under an agreement with Beijing in the 1970s, the United States severed its military ties with Taiwan and agreed that it would only sell weapons that could be used by Taiwan for defensive purposes. Ever since, U.S. policy has supported a "one China" policy, which, while committed to a peaceful resolution of the differences between Beijing and Taipei, left the ultimate status of Taiwan ambiguous.

California Rep. Tom Lantos (Calif.), the top Democrat on the International Relations Asia and Pacific subcommittee, said the authors of the bill failed "to understand that in public diplomacy, ambivalence and ambiguity have a long-established and distinguished place."  "This legislation, though well-intentioned, will add nothing to the security of Taiwan," Lantos said. "What it will do is stir up a hornet's nest of instability in the region."  But many members of Congress want to eliminate any ambiguity about U.S. support for Taiwan and have criticized the Clinton administration for failing to supply Taiwan with air-to-air missiles, missile defense radars and submarines. A Taiwanese official said that he hoped that after the big House margin, the Clinton administration would ease its opposition to Taiwan's request to buy four Aegis destroyers in order to defuse Senate support for the security act.

House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.) said the vote sent a signal that the House would not be cowed "by Beijng's thuggish attempts at intimidation." Earlier, during the floor debate, Gilman said, "A failure to meet Taiwan's legitimate military needs will make China's military domination of the Taiwan straits a reality." Although Taiwan's official representative office in Washington did not lobby for the bill, it has close relations with the Formosa Association for Public Affairs, a group that lobbied vigorously for the measure. In addition, nine members of the Taiwan parliament visited key members of Congress in November, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), to gain support for the bill.  "This is a tremendous victory for Taiwan with its upcoming elections. People will have the sense that they can vote free from fear," said Coen Blaauw, executive director of the Formosa Association. "Any little misstep by Beijing will create the momentum we need to pass this bill in the Senate."

Members of both parties yesterday used the measure as an opportunity to attack China's human rights policies and its military activities. "When there is less confusion and less uncertainty it should actually create a more stable situation," said Rep. Sam Gejdenson (Conn.), the top Democrat on the International Relations Committee, who then detailed several human rights problems in China. "China will have to end these restrictions on its own people if it wants to be a member of the wider world community."

The Chinese Embassy did not return a call for comment yesterday, but embassy spokesman Yu Shuning warned earlier this week that passage of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act "will bring about serious damage" to U.S.-China relations.

 
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