Exercises put MFN in danger

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 March, 1996, 12:00am

THE United States Congress yesterday put its weight behind the show of American military might in the Taiwan Strait and signalled trouble ahead for China's trading privileges this summer.

A senior Democrat warned of the increasing danger to Beijing's Most Favoured Nation status, and officials began to warn publicly that they feared a fight to prevent members of Congress pulling the plug when President Bill Clinton attempts to renew it in June.

Meanwhile, even as the administration continued its harsh criticism of the Chinese exercises, and pondered its next naval manoeuvres, it tried to calm fears of an imminent war.

The White House and Pentagon confirmed that a second aircraft carrier-led taskforce, headed by the USS Nimitz, was on its way to the exercise area from the Gulf.

Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord called the American naval advance 'precautionary and reassuring'.

'If there's any doubt in Beijing's eyes over whether we would fulfil our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, we'd like to think our actions have removed those doubts,' Mr Lord said.

He said a strike by China against Taiwan would not only harm China's own economy, but would also devastate that of Hong Kong.

Visiting official Liu Huaqiu of China's State Council Foreign Office yesterday met senior senators, where he kept to Beijing's hardline message on Taiwanese independence, while trying to dampen fears that the US should feel threatened by its exercises. He refused to comment on the discussion.

Congressmen from both parties will later today put forward a resolution backing the US ship movements, and urging the White House to stand firm if China initiates hostilities.

The CIA has determined that at least one of the Chinese M-9 missiles fired last week flew over Taiwanese airspace, although it was outside the Earth's atmosphere at the time.