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2004-02-07 13:52:30

    Washington, Feb. 6 (CNA) Washington will not sacrifice Taiwan to improve U.S.-mainland China relations, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia said Friday.

    Speaking at a hearing held by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission, Richard Lawless said that U.S.-mainland China relations are not a zero sum game.

    The commission, which was set up by the U.S. Congress in 2000, is aimed at regularly reviewing the impact of U.S.-China economic and trade relations on U.S. national security as well as on the effective execution of the Taiwan Relations Act.

    Lawless said at the hearing that "Taiwan's development into a true multi-party democracy over the past decade has strengthened America's commitment to the island's defense." "As long as Taiwan has a capable defense, the environment will be more conducive to peaceful dialogue, and thus, the region as a whole will be more stable," he added.

    Pointing out that Washington takes its obligations to help Taiwan maintain a self-defense capability very seriously, Lawless said that the Bush administration's national security strategy calls for "building a balance of power that favors freedom, and identifies the spread and protection of freedom and democracy as a national security objective of the United States."

    Saying that President George W. Bush has clearly expressed U.S. opposition to any unilateral changes to the current status quo in the Taiwan Strait whether through the use of force or a declaration of independence, Lawless said that "the preservation of Taiwan's democracy depends on effectively balancing these two goals, while providing Taiwan with the support it needs to deter coercion from the People's Republic of China."

    He also said that Taiwan has encountered significant defense challenges, including mainland China's ambitious military modernization which has raised doubts about Beijing's claims that it prefers a peaceful resolution to its differences with Taiwan. "Taiwan faces an increasingly powerful PRC with an accelerated military moderation program which is designed to improve China's force options versus Taiwan, and is designed to deter and counter U.S military intervention, " the official noted. "This modernization is focused on exploiting vulnerabilities in Taiwan's national and operational level command and control system, its integrated air defense system, and Taiwan's reliance on sea lanes of communication for sustenance," he added.

    He warned that faced with PRC's rapid military modernization, Taiwan's relative military strength will deteriorate unless the island invests sufficiently in its own defense.

    While mentioning Taiwan's current isolation in the international community, particularly in the area of security cooperation, Lawless said that although several states may quietly collaborate with the island on security matters, the United States "stands alone in its political courage, strategic imperative and sense of moral responsibility in assisting Taiwan."

    Although Taiwan has been facing serious challenges, these challenges are not insurmountable, Lawless said. "Our defense relationship with Taiwan seeks to reverse negative trends in this ability to defend itself, possibly obviating the need for massive U.S. intervention in a crisis scenario, and allowing Taiwan's political leaders to determine the island's future from a position of strength," he explained. "If deterrence fails, we must be prepared to swiftly defeat the PRC's use of force (against Taiwan)," he added.

    Meanwhile, the official reiterated that any improvements in the Washington-Beijing relationship will not come at Taiwan's expense, but rather serve to prevent possible misperceptions and promote restraint.

(By Jorge Liu and P.C. Tang)


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