- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

The United States and China clashed yesterday over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, with China’s foreign minister saying that a U.S. law allowing for such sales violates Washington’s commitments to Beijing.

The bitter disagreement was expressed publicly after a meeting at the State Department between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

“We are firmly opposed to the sales of weapons by any foreign country to Taiwan, which is a part of China, because we don’t think it is in the interest of our peaceful efforts towards the resolution of the Taiwan question,” Mr. Li told reporters at the State Department after the meeting.

“And eventually, it will not serve the interests of those countries who are prepared to sell weapons to Taiwan,” he added.

His remarks came two days after the new representative in the United States from the Republic of China (Taiwan) told The Washington Times that the Pentagon plans to build eight diesel-electric submarines for Taiwan as part of an $18 billion arms package.

Mr. Powell countered the minister’s remarks by citing Washington’s “obligations under our domestic law with respect to the Taiwan Relations Act,” which provides for aiding Taiwan’s defense.

“We always measure what is sold to Taiwan on the basis of what they need for their self-defense, and I think our policy has served both nations, the United States and China, very, very well — and Taiwan very, very well — over the course of a number of years,” the secretary said.

Mr. Li rejected the domestic-legislation argument, saying, “In any country, its domestic law should not go above its international commitments.”

But Mr. Powell said the Taiwan Relations Act is “not, in any way, inconsistent with our ‘one China’ policy and … the three communiques.”

The act, passed in 1979 as the United States was switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to mainland China, provided for continued arms sales to assure Taiwan’s defense.

The communiques are three separate agreements between the United States and China. The third communique, approved by President Reagan in 1982, accepted the “one China” policy agreed upon in 1972. On arms sales, the communique said the United States would work to reduce and eventually eliminate such sales.

The United States, which has not had full diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979, is still the island’s main arms supplier.

China considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has threatened to use force against any attempt for independence.

Mr. Li warned yesterday that the continued weapons sales to Taiwan do not “serve the interest of peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”

“We will never, ever allow anyone to use any means to separate Taiwan, which is the inalienable part of the Chinese territory, from the rest of our great motherland,” he said.

In 2001, President Bush agreed to sell Taiwan eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3C anti-submarine planes and four Kidd-class destroyers.

The deal has been approved by the Taipei government and is expected to go before the legislature later this year.

In an interview with The Times on Tuesday, David Tawei Lee, the new head of the Taiwan office in Washington, said the eight submarines will be built “probably in Mississippi.”

The United States no longer builds diesel submarines, and other nations that do — notably Germany and the Netherlands — were not willing to take the risk of angering China.

“The Americans will have to start from scratch,” said Mr. Lee, adding that the shipyard — most likely Ingalls in Pascagoula, Miss. — would have to purchase the blueprints abroad.

Mr. Lee was quoted in the Taiwanese press yesterday as saying that Mississippi was one of the possible locations, but it was too early to discuss details before the vote in the legislature.

A State Department official said yesterday that the Pentagon has been looking for a way to “make the submarines available” to Taiwan, but that he did not know whether a decision had been made.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Li also discussed their mutual efforts to reconvene six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. A new round was supposed to take place in September.

“There have emerged some new complicating factors and new difficulties,” Mr. Li said without elaborating. “Actually, this has required all of us to continue to adopt a more patient and more creative approach in finding a solution through peaceful means to the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula.”

Asked what those complications were, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher later said: “The complications are that the North Koreans didn’t show up in September. … There were no complications from our side.”

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