Agence France Press

Senator Ted Stevens: US will not back down from arms sales to Taiwan

Tuesday August 3, 2004

BEIJING (AFP) - A US senate delegation has had "strong words and very forceful discussions" with China over Taiwan, telling Beijing that Washington would not back down from selling arms to the island, a leading American lawmaker said on a visit to Beijing.

"We believe we are still following the 1979 policy set down by China itself to recognise (the) One China (policy) but at the same time opposing any attempt by either side to change the relationship between Taiwan and the mainland by force," senate leader Ted Stevens told reporters. He rejected China's protest that US military exchanges and arms sales to Taiwan constituted a breach of the accord.

Despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, the Washington has remained the leading arms supplier to Taiwan.

Taipei has been considering a plan to spend 18 billion dollars on the purchase of military weapons from the US -- including eight conventional submarines, modified Patriot anti-missile systems and anti-submarine aircraft over a 15-year period from 2005.

The US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, which pledges that the United States would defend Taiwan should it be attacked and provide arms "of a defensive nature" to Taiwan so it can "maintain a self-sufficient defence capacity."

Stevens' comments came just days after Chinese President Hu Jintao told his US counterpart George W. Bush by telephone that the United States should not sell sophisticated weapons to Taiwan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing also told the commander of US forces in the Pacific earlier this month that arms sales to Taiwan and military exchanges with the island must be stopped.

Stevens, who met Hu Tuesday, said there was a "misunderstanding" on the issue, saying that although the sale of new radars to Taiwan had been authorised, none had been manufactured, delivered or even ordered. "We are still maintaining the position that Taiwan should be able to defend itself against a military attack," he said.

Given the growing economic dependency and exchanges between China and Taiwan, "we believe that time will erase the differences and we still maintain that we are following the One China policy," he said.

On the Taiwan Relations Acts, Stevens said: "They (China) seek to have us repeal that act, which I do not think will happen in the near future."

China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunified, by force if necessary, eversince the Communists won a civil war and drove the Nationalists into exile on the island in 1949.