- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

U.S. officials yesterday offered Taiwan a smorgasbord of submarines, destroyers and sub-hunting aircraft in an arms deal that Chinas military warned would have "suicidal results" for Taiwan, although congressional Republicans lauded the deal.
The offer was made during a Washington meeting of U.S. and Taiwanese officials, who spent three hours discussing the largest sale of American weapons to the island in a decade.
Later yesterday, President Bush publicly pledged to defend Taiwan in terms stronger than any previous president.
In an interview taped for this mornings "Good Morning America," Mr. Bush said the U.S. had an obligation to do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend theirself," and did not back off when pressed about whether that meant U.S. military force.
China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, promptly lodged a formal protest over the arms sales, saying the weapons would dramatically heighten tensions across the Taiwan Straits.
"China has consistently opposed the sale of weapons to Taiwan," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhang Qiyue. She added that China viewed the deal "with serious concern."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer shrugged off Chinas concern, saying simply "we differ." He also pointed out that China has been amassing missiles near Taiwan, which the United States has pledged to protect.
"When the president made his decision on providing defensive weapons to Taiwan, it was based on his assessment and the assessment of his national security team about the threat that is posed to Taiwan by China," Mr. Fleischer said. "And that includes all the military operations of China, including the missiles that are located across the strait."
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwans de facto embassy in Washington, thanked the Bush administration for the arms package.
"We welcome the decision by the United States, which was made in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and Taiwans security needs," said the statement, referring to a 1979 U.S. law that requires the president to help Taiwan defend itself.
"We believe that this decision by the United States is conducive to the security of Taiwan, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and constructive dialogue between the two sides in the future," added the statement, which pointed out that China has never renounced the use of force against Taiwan.
While the package of arms did not include the most potent weapon under consideration — the Aegis naval air defense system — it contained far more firepower than anything the Clinton administration ever offered. Thus, it was enough to satisfy even staunch conservatives on Capitol Hill.
"With this decision, President Bush has made it crystal clear that the United States will not allow communist China to dictate our foreign policy and that we are once again committed to our democratic allies in Taiwan," said Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House whip.
Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the deal, but complained that it did not do enough to punish China, which held 24 Americans as virtual hostages for nearly two weeks this month.
"The sale of Aegis destroyers is also justified in light of the outrageous actions of the leaders in Beijing," the North Carolina Republican said.
House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt, who has been increasingly hawkish since Mr. Bush took office, also questioned why Mr. Bush did not offer the Aegis-equipped destroyers. He also groused that China has not yet returned a downed U.S. reconnaissance plane and that the U.S. military has not resumed surveillance flights off the coast of the communist nation.
Yesterdays deal infuriated both the civilian government and military leadership in China. An article in the Peoples Liberation Army Daily sent an unmistakably bellicose message.
"Arms purchase can only make the Taiwan Straits situation more turbulent, bring more serious dangers to regional peace and stability, and lead to suicidal results," the article said. "If anyone thinks that with mere weapons can decide the fate of a nation, we will tell him that no one can stand in the way of the 1.2 billion Chinese people."
The article added: "And the Peoples Liberation Army, with the sacred mission of safeguarding Chinas sovereignty and territorial integrity, will not permit one inch of land to be split from China."
Civilian Chinese authorities were less incendiary in their rhetoric, but equally dismayed. The Chinese ambassador to the United States, Yang Jiechi, delivered a formal protest to Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state, said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.
"They did raise this in the form of a protest," Mr. Reeker said. "One could call it a formal protest based on what they had read and seen in the press."
The Pentagon emphasized that yesterdays offer does not necessarily mean Taiwan will buy all the weapons in the package.
"The Taiwanese will take this list back home and they will discuss it within their government, within their military in the weeks and months ahead, and make an assessment as to whether or not the individual items on the list are affordable," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman.
China considers the submarines "offensive" weapons, not "defensive."
"I would disagree with that and say that the spirit in which we would preapprove them for sale to the Taiwanese was as a system that would meet the legitimate defense needs of Taiwan," Adm. Quigley said.
Asked whether the United States has formally notified China of the arms deal, Mr. Fleischer said, "I think theyve heard about it," drawing laughter from the White House press corps.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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