- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

President Bushs national security aides are tentatively recommending that the United States not sell advanced destroyers to Taiwan at this time, but provide less-capable warships and other conventional arms, administration and congressional officials said yesterday.
One option under discussion is to build more Aegis destroyers for the U.S. Navy and then transfer them to Taiwan if China continues its buildup of coastal forces capable of quickly attacking the island.
The administration may conduct a new study of its own to determine whether Taiwan requires the powerful Aegis seaborne radar system. U.S. Navy planners did an extensive review of Taiwan defense requirements last year and concluded it needed Aegis destroyers.
No final decision has been made, the officials said. But they expect Mr. Bush on Tuesday to announce a list of arms for Taiwan that excludes the countrys request for four Aegis-equipped destroyers. Its powerful radars can track both supersonic aircraft and missiles.
Taiwan wants to deploy the destroyers before decades end to deter a long-threatened invasion by communist China. Beijing is modernizing its air force and navy, and has stationed more than 250 short-range ballistic missiles at bases within striking range of Taiwan.
President Bush met Tuesday with his national security team: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Sources said yesterday they have not yet made their final recommendation to the president.
An arms package was still being worked out yesterday, and could include air-to-ground munitions such as the HARM anti-radar missile, P-3 anti-submarine patrol planes, diesel-powered submarines and mothballed Kidd-class destroyers deployed in the 1970s.
The old destroyers could provide a training platform for the more-advanced Aegis system delivered later, Navy officials have said. One official said that, contrary to press reports, Taiwan did not request the new Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile interceptor being developed for the U.S. Army.
Administration officials say the Taiwan arms package was not a point of negotiation in either Chinas freeing of 24 EP-3E crew members last week, or the talks in Beijing over the crews 12-day detention by the Chinese military on Hainan island.
U.S. presidents are bound by the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the United States to provide for the countrys defense.
Under a protocol executed each year, Taiwan submits its wish list in November or December, and the White House agrees to make a decision by the following April. This year's deadline is Tuesday.
Congressional approval is not required.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday, "The president has not received any recommendations at all from his staff. The staff is continuing to talk about their recommendations."
Taiwan officials and scholars yesterday seemed resigned to the possibility their armed forces will not win Aegis approval this year.
"If Bush decides against selling Aegis, it wont be a crushing blow," said Yung Wei, a political science professor at National Chiao-Tung University. "As long as other systems are provided that meet Taiwans needs and demonstrate Americas commitment to Taiwan, people cant be disappointed."
A Bush decision to withhold Aegis would come just two weeks after China enraged Americans by detaining 24 U.S. crew members whose surveillance aircraft was forced to land in China.
The New York Times reported yesterday that aides are recommending to the Bush national security team that Aegis not be sold to Taiwan for now.
Al Santoli, a House aide and supporter of arms for Taiwan, said if Mr. Bush denies its Aegis request, then the president must approve a package robust enough to improve the countrys air and sea defenses.
"I think there will be dissatisfaction among conservatives," Mr. Santoli said. "But on the other hand, the level of dissatisfaction will depend on what that package looks like the rest of the way."
Mr. Santoli said that without the Aegis, Taiwan needs radars capable of detecting ballistic missiles in the early stages of flight to give its armed forces more time to shoot them down.
Mr. Santoli said Taiwan needs submarines to counter Chinas fleet of 50 to 90 submarines. "A blockade would in its own way be as devastating as a missile attack," he said. "They have four subs, two of which are old enough to have been in the movie 'Up Periscope."
Bill Triplett, an author and proponent of a tougher U.S. policy toward China, said Mr. Bush will keep so-called "blue team" members like himself satisfied if the package includes Kidd-class destroyers and submarines.
He said another key would be if the president announced a new study on the need for Aegis radars in Taiwan and described the older destroyers as possible training platforms.
"The Kidd gives you plenty of time for training and the same number of ships," Mr. Triplett said. "If the Kidds and subs are in the package, I cant imagine anyone who is technically qualified who would complain too vigorously over a decision to study the Aegis for another year."
He added, "From a military standpoint, if I were in Beijing, I would be a lot more worried about eight submarines in Taiwan. That kicks any idea of a blockade in the head."
Beijing, which wants Taiwan incorporated into the Peoples Republic by force if necessary, has missed few opportunities to warn Washington against any additional arms sales.
Qian Qichen, Chinas vice prime minister, said in Washington last month, "Theres already a spark there. If you pour oil and fuel over the spark, the spark will turn into a great flame. We dont want to see flame of war there."

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