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Biden, Bush Differ on Approach to China-Taiwan Relations

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee says engagement with China not confrontation is the way to solve disputes between Washington and Beijing.

Senator Joseph Biden made the comments Monday in Taipei at the beginning of an Asian tour that includes meetings with top officials of Taiwan, China, and South Korea. The Democratic senator's approach contrasts sharply with that of President Bush.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Biden says China's military power is growing, but he says Beijing still spends only a fraction of the money that Washington invests in weapons and military hardware. He said that means China's large military is unlikely to have the means to launch a major invasion of the island of Taiwan.

Mr. Biden's predecessor as chairman, Senator Jesse Helms, had called China a rising economic and military threat to Taiwan and U.S. interests.

U.S. law requires Washington to sell Taiwan enough weapons to defend itself against an attack by mainland China. And Washington has promised to come to the island's aid if Beijing makes an unprovoked attack.

Taiwan and the mainland split politically five decades ago when the Communists won the Chinese civil war and the defeated Nationalists retreated to the island off the Chinese coast. Beijing says Taiwan is part of China and should be brought back under central government control by force if necessary.

President Bush recently said Washington would do "whatever it takes" to defend the island, but Senator Biden says that pledge goes beyond the formal U.S. commitment to Taiwan. But the Senator said that Washington must give Taiwan enough weapons and other help to make sure the island is never "blackmailed" by Beijing.

Mr. Biden, a Democrat, took control of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after a senator from the rival Republican party switched sides in the closely divided upper house. That defection gave the Democrats a majority in the Senate, and control of committee chairmanships.

Since the Senate plays a key role in U.S. foreign policy, the change in leadership might force President Bush to take a less firm approach to foreign relations.

Sen. Biden spoke to reporters on Taiwan Monday, after meeting with President Chen Shui-bian. He will also visit China and meet with President Jiang Zemin and later travel to South Korea for meetings with top officials there.