- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

TAIPEI, Taiwan As President Bush nears a decision on the sale to Taiwan of navy destroyers equipped with sophisticated anti-missile radar systems, many people here are scaling back expectations.
"If we dont get everything we want, I dont think that means weve lost the U.S. as a friend, " said Pony Lu, a saleswoman on her way to work. "But the weapons are important, they provide a sense of security."
Mr. Bushs formal decision is expected next week, but everyone in Taiwan is aware of news reports that his advisers will recommend to defer a sale of the advanced radar system known as Aegis.
The Taiwan government wants to buy Aegis-equipped, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, with $1 billion price tags. But privately, officials are emphasizing that ties between Taipei and Washington shouldnt be judged solely on the Aegis, a sea-based missile-defense system that in any case would not be delivered for almost 10 years.
Washington is required by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to sell Taiwan weapons it needs for self-defense. China vehemently opposed the sale of the Aegis system, even before the April 1 midair collision of a Chinese jet and U.S. reconnaissance plane soured U.S.-Sino relations.
The Bush administration has reassured Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian that it will honor a long-standing agreement not to put weapons sales to Taiwan on the table in talks with Beijing.
Taiwan officials this week maintained a low profile as U.S. and Chinese negotiators began talks on the collision and Beijings detention of 24 U.S. fliers who made an emergency landing on Hainan island.
But a Foreign Ministry official, speaking a few days earlier, acknowledged that the incident and the arms sales are linked in the minds of many people.
"Its inconceivable that the U.S. wont have to consider reaction in the mainland, " said Lo Chih-chin, director of planning and research at the ministry. "We only hope the arms-sales issue is decided on its merit."
In addition to the Aegis, Taipeis wish list includes submarines, PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries and sophisticated communications equipment.
The upgrade in Taiwans weapons systems is necessary, say supporters of the sale, because China has been on a rapid military modernization drive, acquiring submarines, destroyers and warplanes many purchased from a cash-strapped Russia and targeting increasing numbers of ballistic missiles at Taiwan.
China "has increased its military spending at an amazing rate in recent years, " said Mr. Lo, the foreign ministry official. "If we dont modernize, there will be an imbalance of forces by the year 2005."
Earlier this week, Lt. Gen. Sun Tao-yu, the vice minister of defense, complained that "the U.S. and China seem to be complicating the simple matter of arms sales to Taiwan. " Ambassador-at-large Lou I-cheng, speaking at a news conference with Gen. Sun, said that while Washington and Taipei agreed that the arms sales should not be linked to a resolution of the surveillance plane affair, "the reality seems to be quite the opposite."
"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."
One option for the Bush administration is to provide Taiwan with Kidd-class destroyers equipped with an earlier generation of radar. The destroyers were built for the Shah of Iran, but he was toppled before they could be delivered. Nicknamed "Ayatollah-class, " the destroyers were used by the U.S. Navy before being retired. They could be ready for delivery within two years.
Taiwans navy chief was in Washington this month, lobbying for the sale of eight diesel-powered submarines, a move Beijing also opposes. Taiwan has four submarines, two of which are World War II-vintage Guppies that cant descend below 150 feet.
Andrew Yang, chairman of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, says it is not surprising that the Bush administration wants to think through the Aegis sale as it further refines its China policy, a front-burner issue after the plane collision that left a Chinese pilot dead.
"If they defer the sale, perhaps they approve it later, " Mr. Yang said. "They need to determine whether the Aegis will be good for stability in the region."
China opposes the Aegis sale because it sees the radar-equipped destroyers as a precursor to a possible missile shield for Taiwan and as part of a wider missile-defense system the United States favors.
Huang Yu-sen, a 68-year-old businessman, walking along a downtown street, said the Aegis is necessary. "Modern weapons from America are needed for our security, " said Mr. Huang, who praised Mr. Bush for taking a tough line with China.
The United States seems to be genuinely appreciated here, which isnt surprising considering Washingtons 52 years of support for Taiwan. But that appreciation doesnt translate into universal approval for multibillion-dollar arms purchases.
"Sure, Taiwan needs weapons, " said Ni Hang-sheng, 48, who owns a leather shop. "But American companies also make a lot of money from these sales."
The advanced weapons are intended to serve as a deterrent against China, which has threatened to invade Taiwan if it declares independence. In 1995 and 1996, Beijing test-fired missiles near Taiwan in an effort to intimidate voters and independence-minded politicians.
"What these advanced weapons do is give Taiwan the ability to extract an unacceptable price, should the mainland decide to invade, " said a Western observer.
Whatever decision comes from Washington, the basic relationship with Taiwan isnt expected to change.
"People in Taiwan know that America has been friendly and supportive for the last half-century, " said Lee Kuo-hsiung, deputy director of the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.
"Whatever the specifics of the arms sale, that wont be lost."

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