US blocks arms sales after Taiwan's sabre-rattling

THREATS BY the United States to delay or cancel defence shipments to Taiwan may have prompted Taipei to retreat from a contentious claim to statehood 10 days ago.

By reaffirming in public statements its support for the concept of One China - recognition of Peking as the capital of all China and the theoretical acceptance of Taiwan as part of China - Washington dissociated itself from Taipei's latest claim to statehood.

However, it emerged yesterday that the Pentagon had postponed a visit by a defence delegation to Taiwan and was delaying an announcement on a new sale of surveillance aircraft to Taiwan. The Pentagon delegation was to have discussed, among other things, strengthening Taiwan's anti- ballistic-missile capacity.

US officials also disclosed that deliveries of spares for F-16 jets could be held up if Taiwan persisted in speaking of "state- to-state" talks with China. The use of this phrase in official documents 10 days ago infuriated China and put the US on guard against a new flare- up between Taiwan and China. But reports that China had put troops on alert were denied by Peking.

By yesterday, however, it appeared that the combination of Chinese warnings and lack of US support had forced Taiwan to backtrack. Although Taiwan continued to speak of "special state-to-state" contacts with China, it stressed there was no intention of amending its constitution to enshrine its claim to statehood in law.

The Taiwanese government spokesman also said that the Cabinet had debated for days the English and Chinese meaning of the contentious phrases and had decided to drop several phrases that had especially irked China, including "two states", "two Chinas" and "one China, two states".

Peking has never rescinded a long-standing threat to invade Taiwan if it acts on its claim of statehood.

Taiwan's apparent retreat came as Washington prepared to send special envoys to Peking and Taipei in an attempt to reduce tension.