Bush defers Taiwan’s request for high-tech destroyers
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush rejected Taiwan’s request to buy high-tech U.S. destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat radar system, but left open possibility of future sales if China continues to pose a military threat to the island.
Beijing had objected to its rival’s bid for the Aegis system, and the sale could have worsened U.S.-China relations already strained by the collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet that led to the 11-day detention of 24 American airmen.
A senior White House official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Bush approved the sale of a number four Kidd-class destroyers, which have a much less potent ship-borne radar system than Aegis radar but would still be a step forward for Taiwan’s navy.
The Kidd-class system could be available by 2003, providing more immediate defense than the Aegis system which would take until 2010 to build. The White House official said the Aegis system would still be available to Taiwan in 2010 if Bush decided at a later point to offer it.
The White House also said Bush agreed to sell Taiwan up to eight diesel submarines and 12 P-3 aircraft, along with various helicopters, assault vehicles and other arms. Along with the Aegis, the U.S. deferred sales of Apache helicopters and tanks requested by Taiwan.
The White House said the package was designed to bolster Taiwan’s defenses against the mounting Chinese threats from the air. The U.S. is bound by law to help Taiwan defend itself. ”We think there is nothing in this package for China to fear,” the senior White House official said.
Officials said Bush would not characterize his decision as a rejection of Taiwan’s request for the Aegis system, choosing the word ”defer” to signal that the arms could still be sold if Beijing does not improve relations with the U.S.
Indeed, the White House official told reporters that China could decrease the chances of Taiwan getting the Aegis system if Beijing becomes less aggressive militarily.
It was Bush’s first major action involving China since the country detained the U.S. servicemen and women. The Chinese still hold the U.S. surveillance plane.
Beijing fears the high technology eventually could serve as a platform for a regional missile defense system that would provide a shield for Taiwan against China’s growing arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland. The Taiwan Relations Act, enacted in 1979, calls for the United States to provide Taiwan with ”such defense articles and defense services … as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”
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