The New York Times and CNN reported Tuesday that the White house will deny Taiwan's request for four Aegis-radar equipped destroyers.
It would take eight to 10 years before the ships could be built, delivered and Taiwan trained to use them. At more than $1 billion each, the cost would be difficult to absorb in its roughly $13 billion annual defense budget.
Aegis destroyers have sophisticated radars and fire control systems that can simultaneously defend against surface, air and underwater attack while also launching offensive strikes. The system can handle between 100 and 200 targets at once and could underpin a wide-area missile defense system.
Communist China has repeatedly warned the United States against selling Aegis destroyers to Taiwan, saying it will trigger a buildup in Chinese medium- and short-range ballistic missiles to a number sufficient to overwhelm the defensive capabilities of Aegis.
China has already deployed between 200 and 300 such missiles across the strait from Taiwan.
What the United States would sell to Taiwan is a decision that is not yet made. The Defense Department has not officially weighed in on the issue. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have not yet been briefed by their staff on the Pentagon recommendation and therefore have not provide formal notice to the White House, according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley Wednesday.
Defense officials will meet with the Taiwanese on Tuesday to inform them of the Pentagon's recommendation to the White House with regard to arms sales this year. However, the president's decision may differ from that recommendation, and Congress must also approve the sale, Quiqley said.
The United States' arms sale to Taiwan results in an annual if indirect debate with China. It was undertaken by the United States shortly after the country recognized China, abandoning its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. At the same time, Congress passed the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to signify the continuing special relationship between the United States and Taiwan, and to help the island republic protect itself from a possible Chinese attack. The goal is to provide a balance to whatever capabilities China has without quantitatively or qualitatively increasing Taiwan's military power, according to a 1982 agreement with China.
China sees this as an inherent contradiction. While the United States posits itself as a supporter of "One China," it provides the means for Taiwan to militarily resist such an arrangement.
Last year the United States ratcheted up the level of sophistication by selling high-tech air-to-air and anti-ship missiles as well as a Pave Paws long-range radar system, another possible future component of a theater missile defense system.
Taiwan has also requested four Kidd-class destroyers, ships originally built by the Untied States for the Shah of Iran's Navy; eight diesel submarines to replace its aging World War II era fleet of "guppies"; a Patriot PAC-3 missile defense system, which is not yet even deployed by the U.S. Army; Apache attack helicopters; P-3 submarine-hunting aircraft; High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles; Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the same bomb that struck the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999; AIM-120 medium-range missiles; and other missiles, artillery and equipment, according to news reports and Defense Department officials.
The Pentagon said this week that China's nearly two-week detention of 24 U.S. service members and its continued refusal to release a crippled Navy reconnaissance plane would not affect Washington's decision on weapons for Taiwan.
"I think we're looking at them as two separate incidents. You have an accident, and the purpose of the meeting on the 18th in Beijing is to discuss the four agenda items that I just mentioned, but all of those are related to the accident. And on this hand, you have the Taiwan Relations Act, which is spelled out in the law as to what our motivations are in discussing and eventually agreeing to sell legitimate defensive weapon systems to Taiwan," Quigley said at a news conference Tuesday.
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