- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Our most important alliance partnership, that with the United Kingdom, is already troubled, and is about to be more so. It appears the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is determined to sell China military technology that could be used against Taiwan, and against American forces that may have to come to Taiwan's rescue.
According to British and U.S. government sources, over the objections of the Pentagon in the last year, London is proceeding with the sale of 80 to 90 Rolls Royce Spey turbofan engines that will used to power one or more squadrons of Chinese Xian JH-7 fighter-bombers. This sale rumored for about two years is finally proceeding, according to the British aviation journal Air Forces Monthly. China needs the British engines because it has been unable to copy the Spey or make its own suitable engine.
London counters that the Spey is old technology and does not convey a new capability. True, the Spey and the JH-7 represent 1960s technology, and Britain already has sold some of the same engines for the JH-7 early in its troubled development in the 1980s. But for China, the recent operational emergence of the JH-7 does represent a new offensive strike capability. While not new, the Spey is an enabler. In Chinese Navy service, the JH-7 will carry new attack missiles that could threaten Taiwanese and U.S. forces. To wit, a new Chinese supersonic ramjet-powered long-range attack missile was displayed on a large model of the JH-7 at China's Zhuhai Airshow last November.
This follows other troubling sales. In 1996 Britain's Racal Corp., now part of the French company Thales, sold six to eight of its Skymaster long-range airborne radar that are now entering the service on Chinese Navy Y-8 turboprop transports. London justifies this sale by noting that the Chinese plan to use the Y-8 radar platform to counter smugglers a significant problem for China.
But in 1999, according to a report in the British magazine Flight International, the Y-8 radar plane was used in a naval exercise to help a missile destroyer find distant targets. The U.S. Navy has long noted that this new Y-8 can be used to help target the supersonic Sunburn missiles on the Chinese Navy's two new Sovremenniy destroyers. Absent the protection of aircraft carriers, U.S. and allied ships are highly vulnerable to the Sunburn.
Then in late 1998, Mr. Blair himself officiated over the signing of a contract in which China's Hangtain Co. would co-develop new micro-satellites with Britain's Surrey Satellite Technology Co., one of the world's leading small-satellite companies. Within two years of signing the contract, China launched its 50-kilogram Tsinghua-1 micro-satellite. At the recent Zhuhai Airshow, Hangtain officials noted plans for launching even smaller 10-kilogram nano-satellites.
This constituted very rapid absorption of a new technology with radical military implications. Small satellites designed for reconnaissance and communication missions are being developed by the U.S. and other countries because they are harder to detect and shoot down, and can be more easily replaced than current satellites. Some in the Pentagon are concerned that Chinese micro- or nano-satellites could be launched covertly with regular commercial satellites and then stealthily parked in orbits near critical U.S. military satellites for later interception.
These sales proceeded despite a 1989 European Union embargo on arms sales to China in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre that year. While the U.S. maintains a strict arms embargo, the Europeans have been weaseling around theirs for some time. In 1996, London issued a reinterpretation of the European Union's arms embargo that essentially allows the sale to China of engines, radar, military electronics and small satellite technology.
Now British technology is helping China to shoot at U.S. Navy ships, to find them at sea, and potentially to blind the U.S. Navy's first line of defense in space. Meanwhile, U.S. technology and arms assist Britain's continued naval modernization, from co-developed ship defense systems to the fighter aircraft that could go on Britain's planned new aircraft carriers. Also, London likely views as vital the intelligence shared from the vast U.S. space information-gathering network. So when the U.S. military asks Britain not to sell military technology to China that would increase the danger to Americans, why does London balk?
Unfortunately, the historical record shows a consistent British disagreement with the U.S. over support for Taiwan. In the early 1950s, London regularly opposed growing U.S. support for the Nationalist regime on the island. But now that Taiwan is a full-fledged democracy, and perhaps the most powerful harbinger for positive political change on the Mainland, why must London find new ways to undermine Taiwan's security?
The new Bush team will have to squarely address numerous issues that have caused the NATO alliance to drift during the Clinton years. Add to that list the matter of Britain's refusal to heed its most important ally's request not to sell dangerous military technology to China.

Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.

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