After the Chinese threats against Taiwan became louder and more shrill at the end of January, the Clinton Administration also started to act, and in a series of statements by high State Department and Defense officials made it clear to China that the treats were not acceptable and that any military action by China against Taiwan would meet an American response:
On 6 February 1996, US Defense Secretary William Perry said that he was concerned that with the military maneuvers China was, in not-so-subtle ways, threatening Taiwan and trying to influence the elections. On the next day, in a Hearing before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord said that it is apparent that a majority of the people on Taiwan wish to be separate from the PRC. He stated that the US feels strongly that the people of Taiwan can determine their future peacefully, and said that if there were any attempt to resolve the question by other than peaceful means, the United States would meet its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979.
At the same Hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Kurt Campbell spelled out that under the TRA, the United States is continuously assessing the military balance between Taiwan and China, and makes equipment and services available so Taiwan has an adequate self-defense. In addition, the United States itself has sufficient military capability in the area (more than 100,000 troops deployed) to help ensure the safety and security of Taiwan.
A few days later, on 13 February 1996, US Secretary of Defense William J. Perry stated in an Asia policy speech that China was not acting responsibly, and that its military maneuvers and missile tests were endangering the safety and security in the Taiwan Straits.
On 15 February 1996, General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in an interview with reporters that China does not have the capability to carry out a military invasion in Taiwan, because it lacks the necessary sealift capability to mount such an attack across the Taiwan Straits, which is five times as wide as the Channel between France and Britain. He stated: "We do not believe that they have the capability to conduct amphibious operations of the nature that would be necessary to invade Taiwan."
However the American warnings to China to tone down didn't seem to work, as on 5 March 1996 the Chinese announced that they were going to conduct large-scale missile tests near Taiwan between 8 and 15 of March 1996. Mr. Perry subsequently stated that the Chinese were "making a very bad mistake", while the State Department termed the tests provocative and warned China of "consequences" if the tests go wrong and hit Taiwan.
From mid-February through the beginning of March 1996, all major Republican presidential candidates expressed their views on the issue of China's threats against Taiwan. A brief overview:
On 11 February 1996, candidate Patrick Buchanan said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the United States should stand behind Taiwan, if China perpetrates acts of aggression, for the basic reason that the United States has a moral commitment to the Taiwanese. He would clearly tell the Chinese what the consequences would be if they tried to attack Taiwan. He emphasized, the problem of trying to cross the Taiwan Straits, and compared it with the massive exercise the Allies had to go through to cross the English Channel. He predicted the Chinese would "... wind up on the bottom of the Taiwan Straits."
On 1 March 1996, the view of Republican candidate Steve Forbes were analyzed in an article by Elaine Sciolino in the News York Times. Mr. Forbes said that if China uses force against Taiwan, the US should come to its defense. He would "draw a line in the water." Mr. Forbes also expressed support for Taiwan membership in the United Nations.
Finally, on 3 March 1996, Senator Bob Dole, in a TV-Interview on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley" also expressed his support for Taiwan's membership in the United Nations. On the issue of China's threats against Taiwan, Mr. Dole said: "I'ld tell (the Chinese) they'd better be careful because, if they make a move, we're committed to help Taiwan, and they should understand that very clearly."
The only major candidate who didn't express himself clearly on the issue of Taiwan yet was Mr. William J. Clinton.
In mid-February 1996, the European parliament is Strasbourg, France discussed the rising tensions in East Asia, and strongly criticized China for its aggression against Taiwan. Euro Members of Parliament slammed the preparations for maneuvers by more than 150,000 troops as an attempt to intimidate Taiwan ahead of the democratic presidential elections.
The European Union's directly elected assembly warned Beijing not to "carry out any aggressive acts" against Taipei. The deputies said the EU must demand assurances from China that it would "refrain from all intimidation aimed at interfering with the elections." The development of democracy in Taiwan "is now threatened by noisy saber-rattling from across the Straits," said British liberal Graham Watson, who recently headed a parliamentary delegation to the region.
British Labor Party member Gary Titley said the European Union had to make it clear to the "aggressive regime" in China that elections for a successor to President Lee Teng-hui "will not be interfered with under any circumstances." Titley said Beijing's belligerence stemmed from "a power struggle" in the government which augured ill for the West. A change in leadership in Beijing was imminent and all the candidates for the top post were trying to court the military by sounding the most aggressive, he warned.
Watson said the European Union member states were individually afraid to help Taiwan, at the risk of damaging trade relations with China. But he pleaded with them to act together and protect the "rare flower" of Taiwanese democracy.
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