Speaking with startling bluntness on an issue so delicate that diplomats have tiptoed around it for years, House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that he had warned China’s top leaders that the United States would intervene militarily if Taiwan was attacked.
As he left for Tokyo after a three-day trip to China, Gingrich said he had made it absolutely clear how the United States would respond if such a military conflict arose.
Referring to his meetings with China’s leaders, Gingrich said: “I said firmly, ‘We want you to understand, we will defend Taiwan. Period.’ I think that they are more aware now that we would defend Taiwan if it were militarily attacked.”
Gingrich delivered his message Sunday, among the most forceful ever given about Taiwan by a visiting U.S. official, to Wang Daohan, China’s chief representative in talks with Taiwan. Gingrich said he had given the same message to President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Li Peng in Beijing last week.
Chinese leaders offered no public response to Gingrich on Sunday. But on Friday, Jiang urged him to treat the Taiwan issue with care.
Although Chinese leaders can hardly be pleased by his remarks, just as Taiwan’s leaders are likely to be thrilled by them, Gingrich said the response he had received in Beijing and Shanghai had been calm.
“We never got into an argument,” he said. “They never said, ‘Well you can’t have that right - that’s interference.’ They said, ‘OK, noted.’ And then they basically would say: ‘Since we don’t intend to attack, you won’t have to defend. Let’s go on and talk about how we’re going to get this thing solved.’ And I think that’s very healthy.”
Asked about Gingrich’s statements, a Clinton administration official said Gingrich had received briefings about American policy toward China, but that Gingrich “was speaking for himself” in his conversations with Chinese leaders.
The White House issued a statement saying the policy of the United States was to “meet its obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act, including the maintenance of an adequate self-defense for Taiwan,” and that the administration would maintain its “one-China policy, the fundamental bedrock of which is that both parties peacefully address the Taiwan issue.”
After visiting Japan, Gingrich and the dozen members of Congress with him will stop in Taiwan on Tuesday.
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