US warns defence of Taiwan not guaranteed

By Salamander Davoudi in Washington -- Financial Times

Published: April 22 2004 2:36 | Last Updated: April 22 2004 2:36

The US warned Taiwan on Wednesday that the island's defence could not be ensured if it were to unilaterally move towards independence and insisted that China's threats of military action must be taken seriously. In testimony before the US House international relations committee James Kelly, assistant secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said: "We have very real concerns that our efforts at deterring Chinese coercion might fail if Beijing ever becomes convinced Taiwan is embarked on a course towards independence and permanent separation from China.

"While we strongly disagree with the approach, it would be irresponsible of us and Taiwan's leaders to treat these statements as empty threats."

When asked whether the Taiwanese were under the impression that the US was willing to defend them at all costs Mr Kelly replied: "If they heard that they misunderstood."

Congressman Gary Ackerman, a senior Democrat on the House international relations committee, was one of several Democratic lawmakers who expressed frustration over the apparent opaqueness of US policy towards Taiwan.

President George W. Bush has said in the past he would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself" against attacks from the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan is a delicate issue for the Bush administration as the US supports its flourishing democracy but does not endorse all its ambitions, especially those that could lead to war with China.

In recent months the White House has become concerned over comments by Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's president, concerning the adoption of a new constitution, a move that could be perceived as edging towards independence.

During a recent visit to China, US vice-president Dick Cheney reiterated that Washington opposed any moves by Taiwan to formalise its de facto independence.

The Chinese called on the US to stop weapons sales to Taiwan but Mr Cheney said the sales were directly linked with Beijing's ever-increasing deployment of missiles and other forces to threaten the island.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, said the US defence department would continue to "maintain an active dialogue with Taiwan with regard to military hardware, training and doctrine."