- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

China demanded yesterday that President Clinton block legislation to boost U.S. military ties with Taiwan, a measure approved by an overwhelming majority of House Republicans and Democrats.
The message, delivered in a formal protest to U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher in Beijing, comes at a time of growing tension over Taiwan both across the Taiwan Strait and in Washington between the Clinton administration and Congress as the island prepares to choose a new president next month.
A senior Taiwanese official welcomed the House measure passed Tuesday as a show of "concern" by "friends" of his island, but declined to side with congressional critics who accuse the White House of backsliding on a long-standing U.S. commitment to help Taiwan defend itself.
"The bill that was passed by the House yesterday is purely a domestic affair of the United States," said John Chang, an adviser to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. "As a foreign government, we don't really think it's appropriate to get involved."
The House, concerned over an unprecedented Chinese military buildup and repeated threats to attack Taiwan, approved the bill by a 341-70 margin, with 140 Democrats ignoring pleas from both the White House and Beijing to vote it down.
In Beijing yesterday, Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned Mr. Prueher and demanded that the White House "keep its promise to block the legislation."
Mr. Yang lashed out at the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act as "a serious encroachment on China's sovereignty [and] a gross interference in China's internal affairs," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has threatened to attack if it declares independence from the mainland.
Mr. Chang, a member of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party, said that China's belligerence has more to do with Taiwan's thriving democracy than a hypothetical fear of independence.
"Democracy has become a fixture in Taiwan," he said.
Much of mainland China's skepticism about the island, he said, comes from China's failure to completely understand the forces of democracy at work on the island.
Taiwanese voters will choose a new president on March 18.
During its first democratic presidential election four years ago, China sought to influence the outcome by launching missiles at the island's shipping lanes and conducting mock invasions on its side of the Taiwan Strait.
The saber rattling prompted the United States to send two aircraft carriers to the region.
The Clinton administration, which calls the legislation provocative, hopes to avoid a similar confrontation this year. Senate leaders indicated yesterday they would not consider the House bill until after the Taiwan elections.
The legislation would lift a ban on military-to-military contacts between Taiwan and the United States and also make U.S. military training available to Taiwanese officers.
Mr. Chang said it was too early to speculate on the bill's implications because it still awaits a vote in the Senate and a probable veto from Mr. Clinton. "We don't know if it can become law," he said.
But Parris Chang, a prominent member of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), praised the bill.
"We think it's a good act," he said. "If it's passed by the Senate with the same type of margin [as in the House] it would really convey a very powerful message to Beijing."
"Unlike the Kuomintang [Nationalist Party], I think we are much more straightforward," he told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "On the reunification issue, for example, we realize the Taiwanese people don't want this, so that's our position."
The DPP, which recently backed away from its longtime support for independence, is locked in a tight three-way race with the Nationalists and an independent candidate for the presidency.
Taiwan split from China in 1949, when the Communists won the civil war and the Kuomintang fled to the island.
Since then, both sides have maintained that Taiwan and China are part of a single nation and that reunification would come at some point in the future.


This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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