U.S. official: Taiwan arms sale will address imbalance
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has decided to deny, for now, Taiwan's request for four Arleigh Burke destroyers equipped with state-of the-art Aegis radar system.
But the administration approved a package of military technology and weapons systems that would, in a "measured" way, address a regional military balance that had "tilted in the People's Republic of China's favor in a dangerous way," a senior White House official said Monday.
Bush told senior aides he would revisit the Aegis issue in a year or two, and would be inclined to approve such a sale if China continues to add to a 300-strong arsenal of ballistic missiles pointed toward Taiwan.
A Taiwanese delegation will receive official word of the proposed package Tuesday at the Pentagon. It includes four older, Kidd-class destroyers, submarines, sub-hunting aircraft, advanced torpedoes and missiles, several White House and congressional sources said.
A senior White House official said the president deferred the decision on the Aegis because there was a consensus among members of the national security team that the Kidd destroyers would quickly upgrade Taiwan's capabilities.
Aegis destroyers could not have been delivered before 2010 -- seven years after the target date for delivering the Kidd destroyers.
The official described a carrot-and-stick approach, under which Bush would revisit the issue if the Chinese missile buildup continues. U.S. officials say China is adding roughly 50 short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles per year to its current arsenal of about 300.
Congressional reaction favorable
The senior White House official called the package "balanced" and said, "there is nothing in this package for the PRC to fear." Still, the official said U.S. officials thought it necessary to take significant steps to improve Taiwan's security because of an imbalance "caused by the PRC" and its recent military buildup.
The official said the hope was a stronger Taiwan would encourage Taipei and Beijing to resume a "positive cross-straits dialogue."
China had promised dire consequences if the United States sold the Aegis system to Taiwan. Beijing also considers submarines to be offensive weapons and therefore, in its view, not covered by terms of the Taiwan Relations Act that pledges U.S. support for the island democracy's defenses.
Initial reaction from conservatives in Congress who had voiced support for the Aegis sale was favorable -- or at least not critical.
Arizona GOP Senator John Kyl, for example, told CNN: "The message should be: this is what we need to do right now, but continued aggression and hostility on the part of China will clearly provoke more responses by the United States and the sale of the Aegis cruiser is certainly not out of the question in the future."
Decision put U.S. in awkward spot
The decision-making process on the requested sale of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers put the White House in an awkward and sensitive position because of the current strained relations with Beijing following the collision of a U.S. reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter jet.
China is still in possession of the U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft that collided with a Chinese F-8 jet fighter off Hainan Island at the beginning of this month. The Chinese jet broke up and the pilot is presumed dead.
The 24-person crew of the EP-3 was held on the Chinese island for 11 days. Difficult negotiations brought about the release of the crew. The return of the aircraft is still under discussion. Each side blames the other for triggering the collision.
China exploded with anger over the EP-3 incident and warned the United States to cease surveillance flights off its coasts. The United States said the flights will resume within days.
Tensions between the two nations have risen since the midair collision, aggravated by several other issues, including Chinese detention of several American citizens of Chinese descent, all of them scholars, and the granting of a tourist visa by the United States to the former president of Taiwan so he could visit Cornell University, his alma mater.
Taiwan has always presented one of the most troublesome obstacles to better relations between the United States and China, even during the best of times, when China and the United States worked in concert to keep the Soviet Union in check, and during the "strategic partnership" days of the Clinton administration.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has since the 1949 Communist takeover, when the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek, a U.S. ally in World War II, fled the mainland to the island and set up shop.
Beijing is clear that it intends to bring Taiwan back into the fold, and although reunification talks have sometimes been cordial, China has often flexed its muscles at key times -- conducting naval exercises in the Taiwan Straits, for example, prior to democratic elections on the island.
The United States maintains strong ties with Taiwan despite Beijing's protests, and Taiwan annually presents the Pentagon with its wish list of armaments it wishes to purchase.
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