A new showdown is looming between China and the United States over arms sales to Taiwan. The Obama administration privately has decided to sell a new arms package to the island but is keeping details secret until after next week’s visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
A senior Obama administration official told Inside the Ring that the latest multibillion-dollar arms package is expected to trigger new outrage from China’s military. It includes much-needed equipment to upgrade Taiwan’s aging arsenal of 145 U.S.-made F-16 jet fighters with new electronics, engines and missiles.
The new arms package could be worth up to $4 billion for defense contractors and will be the first test of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates‘ efforts in Beijing this week to restart stalled military-to-military relations with China.
Beijing cut off ties with the Pentagon last year in January after Congress was notified about plans to sell $6.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, the island nation Beijing insists is part of its territory. In 2008, China halted the military exchange program over an earlier arms sale.
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie said after meeting with Mr. Gates on Monday that China has been “clear and consistent” in opposing arms sales to Taiwan, claiming they “seriously damaged China’s core interests, and we do not want to see that happen again.” He also added that “neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship.”
Mr. Gates told reporters later that decisions on arms sales are focused on defensive capabilities and obligations based on U.S. law. He said he told the Chinese “we were not going to change our policy, but clearly over time, if the environment changed and if the relationship between China and Taiwan continued to improve and the security environment for Taiwan changed, then perhaps that would create the conditions for re-examining all of this.”
However, it would be “an evolutionary and a long-term process,” he said, adding, “I don’t think that’s anything that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said the arms package has been approved by all U.S. agencies except the State Department. Once it is fully approved, Taiwan will decide what to buy for retrofitting the F-16s. A final notice to Congress is not expected until later this year, he said.
Defense sources said Taiwan’s request to buy more modern F-16s is still being considered, but the upgrade package is assured.
A Defense Intelligence Agency report from last year said Taiwan’s air force is rapidly being overshadowed by new Chinese jets, including the J-10, and the recently unveiled fighter, the J-20.
Key elements of the arms package will include new radar, possibly the advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array system, and advanced AIM-9X air-to-air missiles.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment.
Gates visits Great Wall
Robert M. Gates went to China’s Great Wall this week and also was the second U.S. defense secretary to see the headquarters of the Chinese military’s 2nd Artillery Corps, as its strategic and conventional missile troops are called.
Mr. Gates told reporters at the Great Wall that the Chinese discussed their nuclear strategy and “no-first-use” policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. The policy in recent years has been called into question by a Chinese general who has said China would use its nuclear forces against the United States if U.S. long-range, conventional cruise missiles were fired against China in a conflict.
During the visit to the nuclear headquarters, Mr. Gates said he invited Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, 2nd Artillery commander, to visit the U.S. Strategic Command headquarters near Omaha, Neb.
However, the elusive Gen. Jing has been invited several times in the past for such visits, including a direct appeal in 2006 from then-President George W. Bush to visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, but so far has not made the trip.
Defense officials have said Gen. Jing’s refusal to visit is a reflection of tight Chinese military secrecy related to nuclear weapons, which are hidden in underground facilities, mainly in western China.
The missile headquarters is located in Qinqhe, west of Beijing, and was last visited by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2005. Pentagon officials said they pressed China to allow Mr. Gates in the headquarters as the minimum to test China’s sincerity in restarting military exchanges and promising greater openness.
China has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons and is in the midst of a major strategic-forces buildup.
On Monday, Mr. Gates proposed that China’s military hold strategic nuclear talks as well as talks on missile defense, space and cyberwarfare. China rebuffed the proposal, saying it would study and consider it.
China intel failure
The House and Senate intelligence oversight committees were alerted this week to a potential new controversy over whether U.S. intelligence agencies failed to properly assess the development of China’s new J-20 stealth jet.
A J-20 prototype had its first flight test on Tuesday, and a week earlier, the head of the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, ViceAdm. David J. Dorsett, told reporters the speed of the development had been underestimated.
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said China’s development of the stealth jet was known, but “what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.”
The issue is significant because in July 2009, Mr. Gates canceled further production of the world’s only fifth-generation fighter, the Air Force F-22, because China was “projected to have no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020” and would have only a “handful” by 2025, compared to about 1,700 less capable U.S. F-35s.
A Jan. 10, 2006, memorandum from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on reporting to Congress lists “significant intelligence failures” as those likely to have a serious impact on U.S. national security interests.
Intelligence agencies must report to Congress failures that include “a conclusion that an intelligence product is the result of foreign deception or denial activity, or otherwise contains major errors in analysis, with a significant impact on U.S. national security policies, programs, or activities.”
Spokesmen for the Senate and House intelligence oversight committees had no immediate comment.
But a senior U.S. intelligence official said: “We’ve known for some time about advances in Chinese military technology, to include fighter aircraft. It would be wrong in the extreme for anyone to suggest otherwise.”
The official said U.S. intelligence for years followed Chinese military developments and “there’s absolutely no basis on which to define this as some kind of intelligence failure. That would be plain wrong.”
Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said runway taxi tests and the first short flight of a the J-20 prototype aircraft “do not constitute an operational capability, which we project to be a number of years away.”
“The Intelligence Community has identified China’s pursuit of an advanced fighter aircraft …,” he said.
Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman Donald L. Black said “we disagree” with reports stating that intelligence agency’s underestimated the J-20 development.
Adm. Harvey’s past
The admiral who fired Navy Capt. Owen Honors for producing raunchy videos on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise is no stranger to wacky behavior himself.
Special correspondent Rowan Scarborough obtained a photograph of Adm. John C. Harvey as a young officer onboard the USS Bainbridge.
Adm. Harvey was relishing the tradition of “crossing the line” — the initiation of sailors who pass the equator for the first time.
The ceremony that day was a “pollywog” beauty contest narrated by Adm. Harvey, then a more junior ship’s company officer. (Pollywogs are people who have not crossed the equator; they become “shellbacks” after their first crossing.) The photo shows him in jeans, Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, posing with a sailor in drag and another impersonating a dog.
Some in the naval community see other themes in the photo. They suggested to Inside the Ring that it shows the Navy’s hypocrisy in ditching Capt. Honors because a certain amount of hijinks occur on all ships.
Adm. Harvey attained four-star rank and now commands the U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He announced his decision Jan. 4 to relieve Capt. Honors of his Enterprise command. He also ordered an investigation into the making of the videos in 2006 and 2007, when Capt. Honors served as executive officer.
Cmdr. Chris Sims, the admiral’s spokesman, said what was tradition at the equator decades ago has been scaled back so as not to offend any shipmates. Ships no longer host pollywog beauty contests, for example.
“Today, participation in crossing-the-line ceremonies is voluntary,” he said in an e-mail. “Becoming a ‘shellback’ is something that many sailors strive to do while in the Navy. Some take jobs on specific ships because they know that one of the things that ship will be doing is crossing the equator.”
Capt. Honors’ firing has not sat well with all sailors. In a commander’s blog on Friday, Adm. Harvey acknowledged the controversy.
“Now, I’ve always done my best to be up front with you and in return you’ve always given it to me straight - the good, the bad, and the ugly — just like I’ve asked you to do,” he said. “Many of you have very strong views about this matter; I have taken the time to read your posts and emails to try to understand your views and opinions. For those of you who do not agree with the decision I made, it would be helpful to read the statement I provided to the media (below) to learn the reasons behind my actions.”
In a subsequent e-mail, Cmdr. Sims said Adm. Harvey had received the photo in an e-mail from a retired chief petty officer before the admiral made his decision on Capt. Honors.
“The email was rather directive in nature,” Cmdr. Sims said. “He felt that the idea behind the email could be interpreted as ‘Don’t take action on the Capt. Honors issue or I’ll send this photo to the media.’ “
Cmdr. Sims said Adm. Harvey immediately informed Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, to ensure he understood the photo would have no influence on his decision.