The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12 to 1 yesterday to approve the nomination of Leonard Woodcock to be ambassador to China, but failed to agree on legislative language that would assert the United States' continuing interest in the security of Taiwan.
Urgent efforts by the Carter administration during the day apparently headed off committee action on a draft, written by Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.), vowing that any future attack on Taiwan would be considered "a common danger to the peace and security of the... United States."
This language was borrowed from the mutual defense treaty with Taiwan that President Carter announced would be abrogated next Jan. 1 in connection with normalization of relations with China. Administration ofcials said the Javits language was blatantly inconsistent with normalization, and could disrupt that process.
The Javits draft circulated among Foreign Relations Committee members as a document approved by both Javits and committee Chairman Frank Church (D-Idaho). This alarmed the administration, which feared the language could be adopted if it was a bipartisan product of the committee leadership.
But yesterday, Church had a previously scheduled luncheon meeting with President Carter and a hastily arranged conference with Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher. By day's end Church had publicly distanced himself from the Javits draft. "This was a tentative proposition. It was hastily drawn up," Church told reporters outside the committee rooms.
Javits, standing beside him, interjected that Church had authorized circulation of the draft. Javits said that didn't mean that Church was "bound to it."
According to senators sympathetic to the administration position there are ample grounds for White House concern that a tougher statement on Taiwan's security may be written into law at some stage of the congressional process.This language is being considered as an amendment to legislation that would create a new legal basis for U.S-Taiwanese relations now that the United States has recognized Peking.
The Foreign Relations Committee decided late yesterday to postpone the drafting of its version of the Taiwan legislation until after next week's congressional recess. Church said the intervening 12 days would be used to seek a consensus on a Taiwan statement that would win broad backing in the committee.
The dispute over Taiwan security language turns on the question of how far the United States can go to challenge, at least in practice, Peking's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, which is a key element in the normalization of Sno American relations.
Javits and many other members of Congress want to restore the impact if not the reality of the old U.S.-Taiwan defense tready, committing the United States to defend Taiwan against any use of force against it by the mainland government.
The adminstration and sympathetic senators argue that this could disrupt the new Chinese-American relationship just as it is beginning. Many senators who oppose the Javits approach have argued for a vaguer statement that the United States is counting on China to keep the word of its vice premier, Teng Hsiao-ping, not to interfere forcibly in Taiwan's affairs.
President Carter has said he does not want a statement attached to the Taiwan legislation. An administraiton official said last night, "We still prefer no language, but we now face the political reality that we're going to have something. We want it to be something that doesn't disrupt the normalization process."
Woodcock's nomination to be ambassador to Peking may get tied up in this other debate. Sen. Jesse A. Helms (R-N.C.), the only member of the Foreign Relations Committee to vote against Woodcock yesterday, said he hopes to block Senate action on the nomination until the Senate has finished deliberations on the Taiwan legislation.
Woodcock answered questions before the Senate panel for more than two hours yesterday morning.He was questioned repeatedly about Taiwan's security, and said he thought the United States had thoroughly reliable assurances that Peking would not use force to bring Taiwan under its direct control.
"We are absolutely free to take any action we see necessary for the security of the United States and the stability of that region," Woodcock told the senators.
He also argued that the Peking government was completely committed to a program of economic modernization, and that this would be endangered by adventurism over Taiwan. He said Peking now lacks the military strength to take Taiwan by force, and that the United States would be able to detect any effort to acquire that strength.
The Javits draft that circulated yesterday vowed that "the United States will maintain its capacity in the Western Pacific to resist armed attack and other forms of external activities that would jeopardize the territorial and functional integrity of Taiwan..."
In effect, Woodcock argued that such statements were unnecessary.