The new commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral William Fallon, has expressed concern about the new anti-secession law China's legislature is expected to pass next week.
In his first public comments since taking over the huge Pacific Command about 10 days ago, Admiral Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it is at the top of his list to gain a better understanding of the China-Taiwan issue, and what the United States can do to help ease tensions. But he said the anti-secession law China is expected to enact is causing him some concern.
"It's disconcerting that this legislation, the anti-secession law, as they call it, has been put forward because it hardens the line," he said. "And it gives them, apparently, a legal basis, of sorts for the potential for military action later on. So I don't think it's particularly useful to the idea that we would propose to lessen tensions between Taiwan and China."
The new Chinese law authorizes what it calls "non-peaceful" means to achieve reunification with Taiwan, if that becomes necessary. China has always reserved the right to use force, but the new law is seen as providing a legal basis for doing so. Taiwan split from China at the time of the communist revolution in 1949, and for decades claimed to be home to the country's legal government. But in recent years, the idea of Taiwan independence has become more popular on the island.
The United States says there is only one China, opposes Taiwan's independence movement and wants the issue settled through negotiations. The United States has a strong economic relationship with China and also has a long-standing defense relationship with Taiwan. Any Chinese attack on the island could draw a U.S. military response.
Admiral Fallon says he is working with his subordinate commanders to find ways the U.S. Pacific command can help reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
"We clearly have interests on both sides and I think we're, at least in theory, positioned pretty well to maybe have some influence here," he said. "And I hope we can do that."
Admiral Fallon told the senators one reason the United States has that influence is what he called a "very, very substantial increase in the capability" of the forces under his command. He says U.S. naval, air and land forces in the Pacific are capable of projecting U.S. military power throughout the region and to do all the jobs they are called on to do.