U.S. Defends Arms Sales to Taiwan
By P. PARAMESWARAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Published: 17 May 15:48 EDT (11:48 GMT)
WASHINGTON - The U.S. criticized on May 15 China's missile buildup along the Taiwan Strait and said Washington would continue to sell arms to Taiwan to bolster its defense needs.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Washington had expressed concern to Beijing about its ongoing military buildup on its side of the strait separating the mainland and the Taiwan island.
"We view China's buildup as unnecessary and counterproductive," he told a congressional hearing.
"The anxiety it breeds on Taiwan encourages pro-independence inclinations that the mainland's missile deployment purports to deter," he said.
Outgoing, independence-leaning Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian warned recently that China had increased the number of tactical ballistic missiles targeting the island from 200 in 2000 to more than 1,300 now.
Beijing has repeatedly warned of an invasion should Taiwan declare formal independence.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, although Beijing regards the self-ruling island as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.
Negroponte said Washington would "continue to sell Taiwan defensive arms to maintain the capacity to assist in Taiwan's defense if needed."
The U.S. is obliged by law to offer Taiwan a means of self-defense if its security is threatened and is the leading arms supplier to the island despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Aside from the legal obligation, Negroponte said the arms sales also "supports our belief that a Taiwan confident and capable of protecting itself will offer the best prospects for a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences."
Negroponte also chided Beijing for its "efforts to squeeze Taiwan's diplomatic space," calling them also counterproductive.
He made it clear that the U.S. did not support Taiwan independence and was against Taiwan's membership in international organizations where sovereignty was a requirement.
But the U.S., which maintains a one-China policy hinged on diplomatic relations with Beijing only, wanted to find ways to allow Taiwan to "participate meaningfully" in the broad range of international activities, he said.
For example, he said, Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization would give it access to vital health information about quickly spreading infectious diseases. "That is in everyone's interests," he said.
Taiwan has said that it expected the U.S. to lead a push for observer status for the island despite China's persistent opposition at the May 19-24 annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization.
Chen's successor Ma Ying-jeou, who officially takes over next week, has vowed to improve relations with China, increase trade, tourism and transport links, and work on a peace treaty to end hostilities.
China-Taiwan political ties deteriorated during the past eight years under the Chen' rule as he had irked Washington and Beijing with his pro-independence stance.
"With the inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou on May 20 we will have safely navigated a tense period in cross-Strait relations," Negroponte said.
"We want cross-Strait differences to be resolved peacefully and according to the wishes of the people on both sides of the Strait. Nobody should question our resolve in insisting on such a peaceful process," he said.