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Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

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.

BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds: "Clinton would probably veto"
The influential Senate committee was debating abolishing the present limit on US arms sales to Taiwan and encouraging closer military co-operation between the two countries.

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.

[ image: China's papers are dominated by the military build up]
China's papers are dominated by the military build up
His legislation would authorise additional arms sales to Taiwan, set up a hotline between Taipei's military and the US Pacific Command, and permit the sale of US missile defences, satellite early warning data, diesel submarines and air-to-air missiles.

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.

[ image: Taiwanese investors were shaken by the crisis]
Taiwanese investors were shaken by the crisis
But he added: "We do not know if our warnings not to engage in military activity will work. The risk of escalation remains."

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.

[ image: President Lee Teng-hui angered Beijing]
President Lee Teng-hui angered Beijing
Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province which is blocking its drive to reunify China.

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.

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