New York Times

Senate Republicans Delay Vote on Taiwan Security Bill

April 28, 2000

By Joseph Kahn with Erik Eckholm

Some Senate Republicans are pushing to postpone consideration of a bill that would upgrade United States defense ties with Taiwan, arguing that it makes no sense to pass it when Taiwan's government is in transition and China has acted with relative restraint toward its neighbor.

The bill, known as the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, has languished in the Senate since passing the House by an overwhelming margin earlier this year. Some senators who favor the bill fear that it might not have enough support to overcome legislative maneuvers that would block it. They also say that Taiwanese officials prefer to delay any action on the bill until after the island's new government takes power in late May.

If the bill remains in limbo, that could clear the way for a Congressional vote on whether to grant China permanent normal trade relations, which President Clinton has called his top remaining legislative priority. The Clinton administration strongly opposes the Taiwan security bill. Administration officials have said they are worried that senators might try to link the trade measure to the Taiwan bill or try to pass both at the same time, a step they say would damage relations with China at a sensitive time.

Taiwan's president-elect, Chen Shui-bian, whose party until recently called for the island to seek independence, signaled that he does not want the Senate to take action on the bill immediately, according to Senator Frank H. Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who met with Mr. Chen in Taipei last week. Mr. Murkowski, who said he had been inclined to support the security bill, said Mr. Chen urged that the Senate delay consideration of the bill at least until after he takes office on May 20.

''Judging from the expected reaction from China, they would prefer to have the inauguration done before any action is taken on T.S.E.A.,'' Mr. Murkowski said, using the abbreviation for the security enhancement act. ''They were unequivocal in saying that they don't need this right now.''

The fate of the bill is in the hands of the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, who has put the bill on the Senate calendar but has not scheduled a vote. A spokesman for Mr. Lott said the majority leader had taken Mr. Murkowski's interpretation of Mr. Chen's views into consideration, and said that was ''one of several factors'' that would determine if and when a vote takes place.

Senate aides said the Taiwan security bill still had strong support among Republican senators and could come up for a vote at any time, especially if China took precipitous action against Taiwan. Mr. Lott has remained coy about his intentions, suggesting that he could introduce the bill if that seemed politically advantageous, the aides said.

The bill is thought to have majority support in the Senate, but possibly not enough backing to overcome procedural hurdles or a threatened veto by President Clinton. Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who has argued that the bill would unnecessarily hurt relations with China, has put a ''hold'' on the measure, a maneuver that under Senate rules requires 60 votes to remove.

Taiwanese officials described Mr. Chen's position differently than did Mr. Murkowski. These officials, including a senior aide to Mr. Chen who attended the meeting between the senator and Taiwan's president-elect, said it was Mr. Murkowski who had raised the prospect of postponing the vote on the security bill, not Mr. Chen.