- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 19, 2000

Despite political deadlock in Washington, foreign policy and security problems continue and must be dealt with. The major flash point in the world today is the Taiwan Strait, where China may misjudge the likely U.S. reaction to its use of pressure or even military force against Taiwan. The leaders in Beijing persist in refusing to renounce the use of force.

To prepare, they are modernizing their armed forces by acquiring advanced Russian weapons. Just three months ago the Chinese press reported that Beijing intends to buy $15 billion worth of Russian arms, including hundreds of SU-27 and SU-30 fighter aircraft. Now, Beijing is following through with a deal to buy from Moscow four or five A-50 aircraft warning and control (AWACs) planes, with long-range radar that can guide up to 30 combat aircraft at a time over the Taiwan Strait.

This deal also includes two more Sovremenny-class destroyers armed with Sunburn supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, which pose a major threat not only to Taiwan's navy but also to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. China already has taken delivery of one destroyer of this class and a second is about to be delivered. Now, two more are being added. Beijing also wants to buy Moscow's Glonass satellite navigation system, which would give its missiles global accuracy without relying on the U.S. GPS system.

A Nov. 5 report from Moscow said a high-level delegation visiting Beijing urged China to pursue "strategic joint projects" with "high-tech sectors of Russian industry." The report noted that Beijing's dynamic economy has produced foreign exchange reserves of $155 billion, much of which could be spent for military purchases. The People's Liberation Army, the report noted, is seeking to buy 120mm and 152mm self-propelled guns, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple rocket launchers, radar systems, ship-based anti-aircraft missiles, electronic warfare systems and military helicopters, and wants more licenses to produce Russian military equipment.

Considering the drumbeat of warlike talk by China, the next president should move quickly to put Beijing on notice that this country will not allow democracy on Taiwan to be snuffed out. Providing advance warning is better than trying to defend after an attack. The rulers in Beijing see time running out as Taiwan becomes increasingly independent. They could misinterpret U.S. intentions just as the Japanese militarists in 1941 misread the U.S. will to fight. A clear signal to Beijing is needed. Selling Taiwan the arms it wants would send such a signal.

Congress made it easy by passing the Taiwan Reporting Requirement as part of this year's foreign operations appropriations measure. It requires the president to consult with Congress on arms sales to Taiwan. This unusual intervention in the executive branch was needed because the Clinton administration has ignored the role of Congress in protecting Taiwan from intimidation, as provided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

The Clinton White House has overruled the Defense Department and ignored Congress to reject or water down Taiwan's principal arms requests. Year after year, Taiwan tries to buy non-nuclear submarines and is turned down, despite what the Pentagon calls China's "overwhelming advantage" over Taiwan in undersea craft, and China's continuing purchase of submarines and technology from Russia.

Taiwan also asked for AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and was turned down until this year, when the administration approved the sale of 200 of these air defense weapons on condition they remain on U.S. soil. The administration apparently hoped that agreement would reduce congressional pressure to approve other items that Taiwan needs.

Last year, Taiwan asked to buy four Aegis destroyers to help protect its sea lanes and Patriot PAC-3 interceptors to defend against the mainland's ballistic missile buildup, probably the greatest single threat to peace in the world today. Taiwan now has Patriot PAC-2 interceptors and wants to add some of the new, longer-range, hit-to-kill PAC-3 models that have been highly successful in recent tests. The Aegis destroyers also could be upgraded later to include a layer of sea-based missile defenses. But China strongly opposes any missile defense for Taiwan, Japan or the U.S. mainland, and devoted a large part of the Defense White Paper it issued last month to attack missile defenses, which it fears would neutralize its most valuable offensive weapons.

Given China's aggressive intentions, it would be unwise not to defend against its weapons. The next administration should seize the opportunity provided by this year's legislation and consult with Congress early next year on the sale to Taiwan of Aegis destroyers, Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptors and conventional submarines, basing its decision on what Taiwan needs to defend itself and not on what might upset Beijing.

China is sending unmistakable signals that it intends to invade Taiwan. The next president should at an early date send unmistakable signals that an invasion will not be tolerated. The current policy of ambiguity must end.

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