Int'l Herald Tribune

U.S. Sharply Criticizes Threat Against Taiwan

Paris, Wednesday, February 23, 2000

By Brian Knowlton and Barry James International Herald Tribune

The United States on Tuesday sharply rejected the Chinese threat against Taiwan, and a presidential spokesman hinted at the possible deployment of U.S. naval forces to give a steely face to American support for Taiwan.

''We reject any use of force or any threat of force in this situation,'' said Joe Lockhart, the presidential spokesman. ''We have repeated, I think, in both actions and words, that we view any threat to Taiwan with grave concern.''

He hinted that the United States was prepared to send naval forces to the area if necessary.

''You will remember that in 1996 we responded appropriately to what was viewed a threat,'' Mr. Lockhart said, alluding to Chinese warnings to Taiwan ahead of presidential elections there that year. ''And that should give you some indication of how we view this situation.''

In Europe, officials said Tuesday that the fresh threats against Taiwan had not altered the European Union's support for a one-China policy, nor its insistence that such an outcome be achieved peacefully.

During a period of tension across the Taiwan Strait last summer, EU foreign ministers expressed their concern and stated that the Union ''supports the principle of 'one China.''' But they stressed ''the necessity of resolving the question of Taiwan peacefully through constructive dialogue.''

That policy, valid for all 15 EU member countries, continues to be the Union's official line despite the latest outbreak of saber rattling by Beijing, officials said Tuesday .

In March 1996, China conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, firing nuclear-capable missiles from Fujian Province into waters near the major Taiwan ports of Keelung and Kaohsiung and staged a mock amphibious invasion of Pingtan Island, near the Matsu island group controlled by Taiwan. President Bill Clinton responded in blunt terms, ordering two aircraft-carrier battle groups to pass through the Taiwan Strait.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lockhart repeated earlier U.S. calls for ''peaceful dialogue and bilateral engagement between the sides'' as the best way to move ahead.

Although the many critics of China in Congress are sure to seize on the latest tensions in coming debates on trade with the mainland, Mr. Lockhart said that he did not expect any problem with negotiations leading to Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization, which sets international trading rules.

''The agreement is very much in our country's interest and our national interest,'' he said of the U.S-China WTO accord. ''This is a one-sided agreement benefiting American business, American workers, American families. We should move forward on that basis.''

As it happens, China is currently in talks with the EU on its WTO application.

In Beijing, an EU trade mission ended a second day of secretive talks and prepared for a third day of negotiations, which could determine whether the EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, goes to the Chinese capital this week to conclude an agreement.

But an official at EU headquarters in Brussels said Tuesday that the two sides were not even ''within striking distance of a deal.''

The name of the game for the EU negotiators was access to Chinese markets in exchange for recognition of Beijing's claim to a place at the World Trade Organization. The list of products under scrutiny included British gin, Scotch whisky, French cosmetics and cheeses and Italian leather goods.

The European Union was also reported seeking more concessions on access by insurance and telecommunications companies. The EU is the most important of the organization's members yet to conclude a trade deal with China.

Some American legislators say they think tension in the region could have an impact on the trade deal. The Senate majority leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, has warned China not to make waves with Taiwan if Beijing wants the WTO accord to pass.

''China is going to have to watch its conduct,'' the Republican said this month, adding that Beijing ''must be careful how they deal with what's going on in Taiwan.''

He said China was ''very susceptible'' to doing things that could cause the trade deal ''to blow up.''

Congress is filled with Taiwan supporters. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation this month to strengthen U.S. military ties with Taipei - a move opposed by the Clinton administration.

While supporting Beijing's aspirations for an eventual reunification of China in principle, the EU has always stressed that this must not be achieved by force.

In its latest statement, the EU said it hoped that every effort would be made ''to clarify misunderstandings and to maintain constructive dialogue.''

It urged both sides ''to avoid taking steps or making statements which increase tension.''

The position paper issued by the Chinese State Council, or cabinet, on Monday could not be described as going along with the expressed wishes of the EU governments, since it clearly was expected to increase tension in the region. But EU governments were assessing the statement in the light of the campaign in Taiwan for the presidential election March 18.