- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

China's aggressive tailing of EP-3E surveillance planes and the collision on Sunday with an F-8 interceptor are part of Beijing's larger effort to influence impending U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, including similar spy aircraft, defense officials said yesterday.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers outraged over the detention of 24 American military personnel on Hainan Island in southern China said yesterday that the crisis has galvanized congressional support for sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan.
Administration officials privately said the crisis has hardened President Bush's position on the issue. As a result of the detention of Americans who made an emergency landing after the collision, Mr. Bush is more likely to approve sales of advanced missile destroyers equipped with Aegis battle management system, diesel submarines, Patriot PAC-3 missile systems and P-3 surveillance aircraft like the one now being held by the Chinese military.
"It is no secret the P-3 with similar capabilities has been requested by Taiwan," said a military official. "That sale is going to be granted."
At the White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said the incident and the arms sales are not connected. "The president believes in the Taiwan Relations Act and he will base his decision on the defensive needs of Taiwan," she said, referring to the 1979 law on weapons sales to the island.
Meanwhile, several House members introduced legislation to revoke China's favored trade status.
"There's been an act of piracy against an American aircraft," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican. The 24 crew members "should be considered hostages being held by a hostile power."
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the crisis "is bound to have some effect" on the pending sale of defensive military equipment to Taiwan. Some senators yesterday indicated renewed support for the United States to sell Aegis warships and Patriot missiles to Taiwan.
"I would be more inclined to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself, given this intransigence on the part of China," Mr. McCain said. "I would be much more inclined to support a larger package for Taiwan as a result of this crisis. I think the president would get more support."
A recent Senate staff report concluded Taiwan urgently needs advanced weaponry, including Aegis destroyers, to counter the growing military threat from China.
Mr. Bush will decide in the next several weeks whether to approve the Taiwan arms sales request, which includes some 30 weapons systems. A meeting between U.S. and Taiwanese officials is set for April 23.
China's government opposes all U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan.
Adm. Dennis Blair, who heads the U.S. Pacific Command, said in Hawaii on Sunday that the United States formally protested the Chinese interceptor flights.
"I must tell you that the intercepts by Chinese fighters over the past couple of months have become more aggressive to the point that we felt they were endangering the safety of the Chinese and American aircraft," Adm. Blair said.
Defense officials said the threatening encounter between a Chinese warship that aimed its fire control radar at a U.S. Navy surveillance ship March 24 was at first thought to be an isolated event, caused by a local Chinese commander acting independently, the officials said.
But after Sunday's midair collision between the EP-3, defense officials now say the activities are part of a pattern of aggressive actions by the Chinese military that are part of a larger political program.
"They are ratcheting up," a second official said of the Chinese military activities.
"It seems rather obvious that the message in this for Taiwan is, 'You may buy this aircraft, but don't think you'll be able to operate it,' " the defense official said. "Is there a message here for Taiwan? I'd say yes."
Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, said in an interview that the detention of the EP-3, if it continues, should prompt the administration to "approve the sale of Aegis systems … and P-3s" to Taiwan.
"The Chinese have decided to test the mettle of the president," Mr. Smith said.
If the aggressive tailing of U.S. surveillance flights continues, the U.S. military should provide fighter escort protection for the aircraft, said Mr. Smith, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"We know the Chinese have been buzzing our planes for the past several months," he said. "They've been getting so close you can see the faces of the Chinese [jet interceptor] pilots."
Mr. Smith said he is one of nine senators appointed to a new U.S. government commission to monitor Beijing's human rights abuses. "We now have 24 Americans that are being held as hostages in China on Hainan Island and an airplane the Chinese have ransacked," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Rohrabacher and four other House members introduced a bill yesterday that would rescind the permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status granted to China last year. Several lawmakers also called for a boycott of travel to China, and they scoffed at China's demand for an apology over the midair collision.
"They want an apology? I've got an apology for them I'm sorry we ever passed PNTR," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he "would be prepared to" support the sale of Patriot missiles to Taiwan.
The Chinese "must realize that this kind of gamesmanship is unacceptable and it's got to have adverse consequences for them in the long run," Mr. Sessions said. "We cannot reward this kind of irresponsible behavior."
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Washington Times it was "inexplicable" that China has not agreed to return the U.S. personnel.
"They want an apology? I've got an apology for them I'm sorry we ever passed PNTR," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.
A spokesman for Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican, said if China is not admitted to the World Trade Organization by June 3, Congress must approve a one-year extension of PNTR, a move which is now much less likely.

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