The decision comes amid heightened tensions after a Chinese fighter pilot's fatal collision with a U.S. surveillance plane and China's 11-day abduction of the 24-member crew of the U.S. plane, which Beijing refuses to return.
China has repeatedly warned the United States against selling the Aegis radar system to Taiwan - an independent nation that China claims is a breakaway province - saying it will trigger an arms race in the region. The U.S. says the plane incident and the arms sales are two unrelated issues.
Pentagon officials said they recommended against the sale in this year's arms package in part because Taiwan's military would be unable to absorb them - a strange claim, if Taiwan wants and thinks it can handle the sale. It could take up to two years to select and furnish a shipyard capable of housing the advanced destroyers, the Pentagon says.
Defense Department officials will meet with a delegation of Taiwanese officials at the Pentagon today to detail Bush's decision, the officials said.
Bush's advisers have recommended that future decisions on the sale of Arleigh Burke class destroyers outfitted with the Aegis system be made contingent on whether China continues its military buildup.
With a radar system that can handle between 100 and 200 targets at once, the Chinese consider the Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer Taiwan wants to be the very definition of "advanced weapons." The ships have very sophisticated radars and fire-control systems that can simultaneously defend against surface, air and underwater attack, while launching offensive strikes of its own.
China says that selling Aegis to Taiwan would trigger a buildup in Chinese medium- and short-range ballistic missiles to a number large enough to overwhelm the defensive capabilities of the radar system. China has already deployed between 200 and 300 such missiles across the strait from Taiwan.
And it would take eight to 10 years before the ships could be built and delivered and Taiwan trained to use them. At more than $1 billion each, the ships would take a big chunk of Taiwan's $13 billion annual defense budget.
Last year the United States ratcheted up the level of sophistication by selling Taiwan 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.
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 abandoned its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. At that 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.
In March, China announced it was bolstering its military spending by 15 percent.
The goal was to provide a balance to whatever capabilities China has without 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.
When Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen visited Washington last month, he told Powell that the proposed deal would specifically violate the Aug. 17, 1982, joint communiqué between Beijing and Washington, an agreement his spokeswoman said was "the basis of our relationship with the United States."
The agreement commits the United States to reduce its military aid to Taiwan "qualitatively and quantitatively." More important to the Chinese, the agreement also prohibits the sale of advanced weapons.
Sources familiar with the recommendations tell United Press International that by conditioning the sale of Aegis destroyers on China's military buildup, policy makers hope to gain leverage with China to influence future military decisions, particularly missile deployment on the other side of the disputed Taiwan Straights.
The Kyodo News reported last week that Taiwan's naval commander in chief, Adm. Lee Chieh, received pledges from U.S. military officials that his fleet would receive eight advanced diesel-powered submarines to bolster the island's World War II era fleet of underwater vessels. The deal is worth between $3 and $4 billion, the report says.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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