Taiwan tightrope

The United States has taken another step on the tightrope between long-standing commitments to Taiwan and strategically important relations with China. While it teeters there with a proposed military package for Taiwan, the American people might well seize the opportunity to let Congress and the administration know what policy mix they favor. Their views ought to figure in two matters:

* Congress's immediate decision on whether to approve the sale of $60 million in spare parts and equipment;

* The adminstration's continuing effort to stabilize the question of US arms for Taiwan in talks with Peking that are now said to have reached a delicate stage.

To veto the parts sale, both houses of Congress must act within a month. Neither seems likely to. But the occasion could be used for airing a situation in which Congress is no less involved than the administration.

The latter gets most of the attention, since President Reagan has gone out of his way to assert friendship with Taiwan despite the break in official diplomatic relations required by the accords with Peking. Representatives of Taiwan in the United States confirm that this administration has followed through on a policy of easy access and cordial contacts.

But assuring that Taiwan's defense needs are met is a matter of US law, not simply White House preference. So it is finally up to Congress how far the US should risk rupture with communist Peking for the sake of sticking by America's old anticommunist friend.

Peking's public stand against any military aid to Taiwan is adamant. It has reacted sharply to Mr. Reagan's formal proposal for the parts sale, though it had been informally told about it last December. It is believed to be more deeply concerned about the long-range prospects for US weapons aid.

Earlier this year President Reagan turned down Taiwan's request for advanced fighter aircraft but permitted continued US coproduction of the F-5E. The coproduction agreement runs out in 1983 unless, as recommended by Mr. Reagan, it is extended.

According to one report, the US is prepared to promise Peking not to raise military sales to Taiwan above current levels and to expect to reduce them as Taiwan and Peking improve their relations. Such a pledge might be part of the outcome of current US-China discussions on the whole US policy of providing defensive arms to Taiwan.

Would such a performance on the Taiwan tightrope satisfy the Peking audience? In any case, the US has no choice but to keep on balancing. It cannot ignore China as a strategic counterweight to the Soviet Union. But neither can the land of the free be ruled by the rulers in Peking when it comes to meeting its legal and moral commitments wherever they may be.

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