Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Warning not to provoke China
Taiwan's Defense Minister Tang Fei: The US bill would give him spending options
The Clinton administration is warning Congress of potentially dangerous consequences if it supports a bill to increase military aid to Taiwan.
Its senior East Asia official Stanley Roth told the Senate foreign relations committee that the risk of escalation remained following China's angry response to Taiwan's call last month for an equal diplomatic relationship.
The committee's chairman, Jesse Helms, dismissed the administration's fears and described China as a belligerent bully. He is a staunch supporter of Taipei.
Last week Mr Roth went to Beijing to discuss the current tensions between China and Taiwan with Chinese officials.
He told the Senate there was "no sign of imminent hostilities" across the Taiwan Strait.
The bill would have to be passed with a two-thirds majority by both houses of Congress in order to circumvent a presidential veto that experts regard as certain, according to correspondents.
The hearing comes against a backdrop of strained tensions between the US and China over Taiwan.
Beijing this week lodged "strong protests" with the US after the Pentagon announced that it was selling some $550m of military aircraft and other weapons to Taiwan.
But the US played down the deal, saying the sale was fully within its policy of providing for Taiwan's self-defence needs.
Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui provoked Chinese anger last month by declaring that relations between the two countries should be conducted on a "state-to-state" basis.
Since the Taiwanese declaration, the two sides are reported to have stepped up military exercises along the centre of the Taiwan Strait that divides them. China seized a Taiwanese freighter last weekend and tested a new long-range missile on Monday.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman James Rubin said there was no reason to change the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which became law when Washington broke off ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing.
He said the legislation "has served this nation extremely well both with respect to our support for Taiwan and with respect to promoting better relations with China, which has brought great benefit to the United States".
The act permits unofficial contacts between Washington and Taipei, provides for arms sales to Taiwan, and commits the US to "appropriate action" in response to threats to Taiwan.