WASHINGTON - A senior US official voiced confidence Thursday that the global response to Russia's annexation of Crimea would have a "chilling effect" that deters China from contemplating similar action.
Since Russia seized Crimea last month, US lawmakers and Asian diplomats have asked about the message sent to an increasingly confident China -- especially with regard to Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing and relies on US support.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Danny Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that sanctions imposed on Russia were being watched by China, whose economic growth is driven by exports.
"It is fair to say... that the extent of Chinese interdependence in economic terms with the United States and with its Asian neighbors is such that the prospect of the kind of incremental retaliatory steps that are gradually being imposed on Russia... should have a chilling effect on anyone in China who might contemplate the Crimea annexation as a model," Russel said.
Russel also pointed to effects on Beijing's neighbors, saying that "tolerance in the region for steps by China that appear to presage a more muscular approach has gone down" due to alarm over the Crimea annexation.
Republican critics of President Barack Obama have charged that US credibility is on the line over Crimea, which had longstanding links with Russia.
"I would venture to guess that the similarities for the Taiwanese (are) pretty striking," said Senator Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican.
China considers Taiwan, whose government was founded by the mainland's defeated nationalists in 1949, to be part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The United States switched recognition to Beijing in 1979 but also passed a law that requires Washington to provide Taiwan with weapons sufficient for its self-defense.
China has seen growing friction with Japan, the Philippines and other neighbors over contested territories. However, relations have been comparatively warm between Beijing and Taipei under Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, who has sought closer economic ties.
Russel applauded Ma and China for improving relations. But he said that the United States did not take a position on a service trade pact, which has brought hundreds of thousands of opponents to the streets in Taipei.
Calling Taiwan a "very robust democracy," Russel called on protesters to avoid violence and said that any deal needs to be "in accord with the comfort level and wishes" of people in Taiwan and China.