Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Senate Republicans yesterday criticized the Clinton administration for blocking the sale of four anti-missile destroyers and other weapons to Taiwan.

Republicans accused President Clinton of appeasing the Chinese, who consider Taiwan their own despite the island’s de facto independence since 1949, but the Chinese said the White House had not gone far enough.

“This administration should worry more about protecting and promoting Taiwan’s democracy than offending the communist dictators in Beijing,” Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said in a statement released by his office.

More importantly, Mr. Lott said, China should not take the decision as “a green light for further threats against Taiwan.”

President Clinton decided Monday against the sale, but approved a smaller package including long-range radar designed to detect missile launches.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told reporters that his government is urging “the U.S. government … to stop all arms sales to Taiwan, including the long-range warning radar and Aegis, so as not to obstruct the improvement of China-U.S. relations.”

U.S. officials notified the Taiwanese of the president’s decision at a meeting in Washington yesterday and also in Taipei.

Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, called the decision to limit sales a “knee-jerk appeasement” and “wholly inadequate.”

Mr. Helms particularly criticized a plan he said would train the Taiwanese military in using advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAM), but not actually sell them.

“What is Taiwan to do? Call FedEx for its AMRAAMs after China attacks,” Mr. Helms asked in a statement released by his office.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon described the arms package that the White House agreed to on Monday as “good, strong and fair.” He said, “If something wasn’t in it this year, it could well be in it in some future year.”

Overall, Mr. Bacon said, the package “is a recognition that the threat seems to have increased,” obliging Washington to improve Taiwan’s defenses. U.S. officials say China every year is adding about 50 surface-to-surface missiles to its force opposite Taiwan.

Mr. Helms argued that the decision to limit sales to Taiwan is exactly the reason why the Senate should pass the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act to formalize the U.S.-Taiwan military relations and require greater consultation between the president and Congress on those relations.

The measure passed the House on Feb. 1 on a 341-70 vote.

Mr. Lott moved that bill a step closer to consideration by the Senate last week, but made no mention of it yesterday. Instead, he said he looks “forward to working with our next president … to craft a new, more realistic and sustainable policy toward Beijing and Taipei.”

The bill originally would have authorized the sale of specific weapons systems to Taiwan, including destroyers and diesel-powered submarines. But in a bow to Republicans interested in increasing trade with China, the House instead opted to formalize future military relations between Taiwan and the United States.

White House officials said they still would recommend a veto because the bill “creates dangerous, false and inaccurate expectations on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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