{short description of image}

US fires warning in defence of Taiwan

Thursday, August 30, 2001

Jason Blatt in Taipei

The US Deputy Defence Secretary has fired a warning to Beijing of Washington's resolve to help Taiwan defend itself against any unprovoked attack.

In an interview published yesterday in the Washington Times, US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said China was probably destined to become a superpower within the next 25 to 50 years and could eventually pose a threat to US security.

Mr Wolfowitz was also quoted as saying he believed the American public would support a US military effort to defend Taiwan against a mainland attack.

Mr Wolfowitz's remarks were the latest in a series of recent warnings issued by US leaders to their Chinese counterparts over the Taiwan issue, which has long been a bone of contention between the two countries.

In the past, US officials had been tight-lipped on the sensitive issue, limiting themselves to re-stating Washington's desire to see cross-strait differences resolved peacefully.

But US President George W. Bush appeared to change that policy in April, when he declared his administration would do "whatever it took" to help Taiwan defend itself against an unprovoked attack.

Yesterday, the Washington Times cited Mr Wolfowitz as saying that the US was fully capable of assisting Taiwan if such an attack were to take place and that assistance was mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act, legislation passed by the US Congress in 1979 that governed Washington's unofficial relations with the island.

"We can more than adequately back up the commitments that are enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act and which the President affirmed," Mr Wolfowitz was quoted as saying. "So the Chinese would be making a great mistake if they thought they could settle this thing on their terms by using force."

He said both Mr Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had been very clear that the US would help Taiwan defend itself against an unprovoked attack. "Indeed, I think the country as a whole is united on that," he said.

On Tuesday, Mr Wolfowitz was quoted by the same newspaper as saying he believed Beijing's build-up of ballistic missiles in the Taiwan Strait was a violation of Beijing's 1982 promise to seek a peaceful resolution to the cross-strait conflict.

He also said Taiwan's success in economic and political reforms probably made Beijing's leaders uncomfortable and insecure, adding Taiwan's system demonstrated that for the first time in thousands of years of Chinese history, "you have a Chinese entity governed democratically. "It's a stirring example, and to some people on the mainland, it's probably a disturbing example," he said.