- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

The United States will sell Taiwan eight advanced submarines and four Kidd-class destroyers, significantly increasing the island nation´s defensive capabilities, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The administration also will sell Taiwan as many as 12 P-3 Orion aircraft, a plane specially designed for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare, and other weapons, but Taipei will not receive destroyers equipped with state-of-the-art Aegis missile defense system.

"The balance which we think had started toward (China´s) favor in a dangerous way, is righted," a senior White House official said last night. The administration will make the formal announcement today.

The arms package was not intended as a response to China´s detention of 24 Americans on Hainan island after a Chinese jet fighter collided with a U.S. surveillance plane.

"We made these decisions in the context of what is a clear administration policy to support Taiwan´s legitimate defense needs," said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The submarine sale to Taiwan — which has only four submarines now, two of which are World War II-era "Guppy-class" vessels — is a significant development, analysts said.

"The sale signals a change from the last five or six administrations," said Bates Gill, director of the Brookings Institution Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies. "Blockades and submarine warfare is apparently the direction China is taking as it contemplates its strategy with Taiwan. This will change things dramatically."

The Clinton administration blocked most of Taiwan´s arms sales requests for the past eight years in what critics have described as a de facto moratorium on arms sales. The State Department blocked U.S. submarine sales, claiming they are barred "offensive" weapons.

The last major U.S. weapons sale to the island was the sale of 150 F-16 jets in 1993.

But senior Bush officials said yesterday said President Bush, on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has decided not to award Taiwan its most coveted prize: destroyers equipped with the high-tech Aegis radar system, capable of anti-air, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare.

The White House official told The Washington Times that the sale of Aegis battle management systems, known as "evolved advanced combat system" was deferred because of the more-immediate need to get the Kidd-class ships delivered.

Those mothballed American ships could be serving Taiwan as early as 2003.

"What we did was by the book and is an assessment of their real defense needs," the senior administration official said. "We did not play politics and we did not try to send the Chinese a signal."

The arms sale also should not be misconstrued by China as a resuming of the defunct U.S.-Taiwan defense alliance. "This is not that at all," the official said.

There was no official Chinese reaction early today, but one Chinese academic said the sale of submarines crossed a "red line" demanding a harsh response by Beijing.

"This package represents a major breakthrough in U.S. arms sales policy to Taiwan and this will be certainly viewed by Beijing as a major problem for U.S.-China relations and for cross-Strait relations," said Wu Xinbo, a professor at the Fudan University Center for American Studies in Shanghai.

"I think there will be some substantive actions and this will come very soon," said Mr. Wu. "At this stage, protest is too mild an action, given this break of the red line."

Mr. Rumsfeld is scheduled to relay Mr. Bush´s decision to a visiting Taiwanese delegation today after notifying senior members of Congress.

The sale is an annual ritual on Capitol Hill, required by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which 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."

Defense officials said the German-designed diesel-powered submarines — to be built by General Motors and Litton — will not be fitted with missiles that can reach China and will be equipped primarily to conduct anti-submarine warfare.

Construction is expected to take about five years and the total value of the sale is estimated to be around $5 billion.

According to a senior Pentagon official, the eight submarines will help the Taiwanese conduct "counter-invasion" and "counter-blockade" operations, the official said.

The submarines are intended to encourage Taiwan to "invest in developing a layered, integrated approach to anti-submarine warfare," the official said.

While Taiwan sought the Aegis-equipped destroyers, a staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released last week said that "Taiwan commanders repeatedly stated that by far the most important item for Taiwan´s navy, indeed for Taiwan´s entire military, is the acquisition of submarines."

The report, written after a fact-finding mission to Taiwan by committee aide James P. Doran, stated that Beijing has more than 20 times the number of submarines as Taipei does and that the Taiwanese navy´s submarine forces is aging.

"Because of their survivability, submarines will be a crucial last line of sea-based defense against a Chinese blockade," the report stated.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, has said China´s buildup of some 300 short-range missiles opposite Taiwan is destabilizing and justifies U.S. sales of advanced weaponry to Taiwan to balance the forces.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has said that the missile buildup opposite Taiwan, which includes both CSS-7 and CSS-6 missiles, is dangerous because it provides little or no warning time to Taiwan of an attack.

New submarines would be able to survive a Chinese short-range missile attack and any blockade that would follow — two likely attack scenarios outlined in a Pentagon report to Congress.

"While missiles aimed at Taiwan are always a concern, in terms of real military coercive capacity, we see greater immediate concerns in the submarine and surface warfare areas that China´s bringing to bear in the theater," Mr. Gill said.

The Kidd destroyers — commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1982 and taken out of service in 1998 after completing only half of their life expectancy are geared for general warfare instead of just anti-submarine operations. They can fire anti-ship missiles and have advanced air-defense radar and surface-to-air missiles that allow them to command a wide ocean area.

"The point is they clearly need fleet air defense," said one senior defense official. "The Kidd-class ships will cover some of that."

Adm. Blair told Congress last month that the destroyers still have "plenty of useful life yet."

The 12 P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft will use advanced sensors to detect submarines from far distances. The $36 million, four-engine aircraft can fly for up to 14 hours with a crew of about 10 and will "net all the components together" in the anti-submarine defense, the senior Pentagon official said.

Defense officials said Taiwan requested 30 different weapons systems this year.

The sale of M-1A1 Abrams tanks and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters is being put off until the Army can conduct a study of Taiwan´s ground forces needs. Sales of anti-radar HARM missiles and Joint Direct Attack Munitions — precision radar-guided bombs — also were deferred.

Taiwanese defense officials had no immediate comment, but Parris Chang, a senior lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the arms package is a "very, very good one."

"I think this decision shows the Bush administration took Taiwan´s defense needs seriously," Mr. Chang said. "It also shows Bush understands that the balance of power is tilting toward China."

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday played down the significance of the deal.

"Every president since 1982 has made their decision in the context of the events in that year dealing with Taiwan. It´s stating the obvious."

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