House leaders have decided to put off a floor vote on a controversial bill to improve U.S.-Taiwan military relations, after some lawmakers raised concerns that the move could interfere with sensitive negotiations to bring China into the World Trade Organization.
The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, approved last month by a 32-6 vote in the House International Relations Committee, calls for an upgraded military-to-military relationship between the United States and Taiwan. It would also require the administration to make regular reports to Congress on the military balance between China and Taiwan, and on American plans to deal with any military crisis that could jeopardize "United States interests on Taiwan."
The Clinton administration mounted an intense lobbying campaign against the bill, arguing that it would jeopardize Taiwan's security by worsening China-Taiwan relations. The administration argues that it continues to provide for Taiwan's security, and has gone further than any previous administration to do so. China has denounced the bill.
But the administration's efforts to persuade the International Relations Committee--which included phone calls to members from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger--were unavailing. House members said the bill would easily pass the full House if it came up for a vote.
Divisions in the Republican leadership over the bill led to the decision to put it off until next year. According to leadership aides, the disagreements concerned timing more than substance. Some thought that while China and the U.S. are negotiating a deal to make China a member of the World Trade Organization, House passage of the Taiwan Security Act would be a provocation. One source said the leadership agreed to let the bill come to the floor next year.
The original version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who acknowledged that it would infuriate China. The House panel substantially rewrote the Helms bill, though key provisions on an enhanced military relationship with Taiwan survived. Supporters of the bill say it lacks majority support in the Senate now.