"I think we're looking at them as two separate incidents," spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Tuesday at a news conference.
"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."
The Defense Department will meet with Taiwan officials April 24 to discuss the weapons the United States would like to sell them this year under the auspices of the Taiwan Relations Act, Quigley said. Congress will be informed about the president's decision shortly thereafter.
At issue is whether Taiwan will be given the right to buy a small fleet of destroyers outfitted with a sophisticated radar and fire control system known as Aegis. Taiwan also wants four Kidd-class destroyers, which would be available right away, but a $1 billion Aegis destroyer could take as long as a decade to arrive in Taiwan's arsenal.
It has also requested a submarine capability, Apache attack helicopters and a Patriot PAC-3 theater missile defense system, according to reports.
The Pentagon does not make a practice of publicly confirming the request list.
Aegis can direct a ship's defense against submarines, aircraft and surface vessels as well as launch offensive strikes, all simultaneously. It is also the foundation for a ship-based area missile defense system.
These capabilities have prompted the People's Republic of China to protest any sale of Aegis destroyers to Taiwan. It also opposes the Kidd-class ships, and takes a general stand against the sale of weapons to Taiwan, an independent nation Beijing claims is a breakaway province that should be under its authority, just as it has seized the independent nation of Tibet.
China is particularly sensitive about a missile defense system because it has deployed nearly 300 medium-range ballistic missiles within range of Taiwan. If the threat of those missile is negated, Taiwan may be less likely to agree to Chinese terms for reunification.
The United States favors a one-China policy but says it must be achieved peacefully.
Backing that view up, in 1979 Congress approved the Taiwan Relations Act, in which the country promised to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan.
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.
Secretary of State Colin Powell in February told ABC News the decision "will be done in a way that is deliberate, with full understanding of the implications of each one of these weapons systems for relationships between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China."
A team of officials, led by Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Support Peter Verga, is in Beijing and will meet Wednesday with Chinese officials to negotiate the release of the aircraft from Hainan Island.
The team does not plan to discuss the annual Taiwan weapons sale, said Quigley.
It will discuss "causes of the accident, possible recommendations as to how to preclude such accidents from taking place in the future, a discussion of the plan for the prompt return of our aircraft - of our EP-3. And we understand that the Chinese wish to discuss the continuation of surveillance and reconnaissance flights. And that is the agenda." Quigley said.
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