U.S. Sternly Warns China: Taiwan Attack Risks `Grave' Reply

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A senior White House official warned China yesterday that it faces "grave consequences" for any military strike on Taiwan as U.S. warships sailed closer in response to Chinese war games in the straits off the island.

"If they attack Taiwan, there will be grave consequences," National Security Adviser Anthony Lake said in a television interview after talks Friday with his Chinese counterpart. "We have been very clear about that. It is important that they not miscalculate."

The statement was the clearest indication to date by the Clinton administration that any attacks on Taiwan would bring a U.S. military response. Earlier statements on U.S. defense support for Taiwan were more ambiguous.

The aircraft carrier USS Independence and accompanying warships are moving closer to Taiwan as a defensive measure, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in a separate interview.

The last reported position of the carrier was about 200 miles northeast of Taiwan.

The United States said it was adding two ships to the 7th Fleet naval task force monitoring the mounting tension between China and Taiwan.

The guided-missile frigate McClusky and the destroyer Hewitt got underway yesterday from Yokosuka, Japan, to join the aircraft carrier Independence and the destroyer O'Brien off Taiwan, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said.

South of Taiwan, the U.S. cruiser Bunker Hill is conducting operations in an area where it can monitor China's missile firings, the Pentagon said.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen charged today that Taiwan's first direct presidential elections were part of a plot to win independence for the island.

"It is entirely futile for the Taiwan authorities to take advantage of the change in the way they produce a leader to give a legal cloak to their activities aimed at splitting the motherland," he said at a news conference.

Mr. Qian said if the Taiwan authorities amend their ways and return to the "one China" principle, or make a pledge to the goal of reunification with the mainland not only in words but also in deeds, then the tension will ease.

But if, with the backing of foreign forces, the Taiwan authorities go further down the dangerous road of independence, China "will never stop even for a single day our struggle against independence of Taiwan," he said.

Mr. Christopher, on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," said the warships were dispatched "to make sure that those forces, that carrier battle group, are in a position to be helpful, if they need to be."

"They'll be moved somewhat closer to Taiwan in future days," he said, declining to elaborate on operational details of the mission.

Mr. Lake said China's launch of three M-9 missiles in test firings Friday that landed in ocean areas north and south of Taiwan, along with live-ammunition exercises now under way, are "reckless."

"And if they get out of hand, if there are accidents, then they will be held accountable," Mr. Lake said of the Chinese. He appeared on ABC-TV's "This Week."

Chinese officials have said the games are designed to discourage a movement toward independence in Taiwan. The stronghold of the Nationalist Chinese government since 1949 will have its first free elections March 23.

China's military issued a warning to ships in the area that it would conduct missile tests for a week that ends Friday. …