The Senate underscored the U.S. commitment to Taiwan in a 92-0 vote Friday that Republicans called a "powerful signal" repudiating President Clinton's comments during his China trip.
Democrats said the resolution, repeating a U.S. pledge to help Taiwan "maintain a sufficient self-defense capability," merely reaffirms existing law."Our position has been the same before and after the president's trip to China," Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said in explaining why Democrats stampeded to support what had originated as a largely GOP slap at Clinton.
During his recent China tour, Clinton publicly stated Washington's opposition to Taiwanese independence, a separate Taiwan government and the island nation's bid to join the United Nations. That brought sharp criticism from Taiwanese leaders, who fear such a public pledge could diminish Taiwan's efforts for more world recognition, and from congressional conservatives.
Clinton also talked about the peaceful "unification" of Taiwan with the Chinese mainland, using a word that does not appear in any U.S. doctrine nor is it part of the U.S. "one China" policy.
Conservatives have argued that Clinton altered the U.S. position on the relationship between the mainland and Taiwan by moving closer to China's position on unification.
The resolution, by Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., was approved without debate. Lott billed it as needed to "repair the damage that has been done" by Clinton's remarks.
"Passage of this resolution sends a powerful signal that the Senate is not accepting President Clinton's new policy," Lott said. "It's a strong statement coming so soon after his return to the United States."
At the White House, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry disputed Lott's characterization.
"First and foremost, understand that the majority leader is wrong when he discusses a new policy," McCurry said. "There is not any new policy. There was simply a reiteration of a policy that presumably Senator Lott abides by."
Asked what the United States would do if China attacked Taiwan, McCurry said nothing has changed since the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which commits the United States to provide "defense articles and . . . services" to help Taiwan provide for its own self-defense - but without spelling out the nature of such assistance.
The resolution reiterates terms of that 1979 measure.
It expresses an expectation that "the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means, with the consent of the people of Taiwan" and repeats a U.S. pledge to help Taiwan "maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."