- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

President Bush decided late last week to deny Taiwans request to purchase Aegis-class guided missile destroyers, according to a source with links to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, retired Adm. Thomas Moorer.
This previously unreported decision reflects a win for Secretary of State Colin Powell over the Pentagon, which, in the internal administration debate, was believed to be supporting the sale. The decision also puts President Bush at loggerheads with more than 60 congressional Republican senators and congressmen, who sent him a letter last week urging the sale. There are some senior officials within the Bush administration who hope to reverse this presidential decision before it is publicly announced.
The Aegis, named after the Greek God Zeuss invincible breastplate, includes the Navys most advanced computer-controlled radar system that, when paired with state-of-the-art vertical launch systems, is capable of countering all current and projected threats to a naval battle group and inland targets. Taiwan has urgently requested the weapon system to offset China L1 Ks growing M9 missile buildup across the 100 mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
To put pressure on Taiwan to accept Beijings sovereignty, the Chinese currently have about 300 such missiles provocatively placed, and are adding about 50 a year. They also have acquired from Russia the fourth generation Su-27 fighter, four diesel-powered KILO class submarines and two Sovremenny class destroyers with "Sunburn" anti-ship cruise missiles.
Based on these facts, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Jesse Helms issued a report on March 8 that concluded: "Taiwan wants, and Taiwan needs, Aegis destroyers … to deal with rapidly developing air and naval threats."
Mr. Bushs decision to deny the sale provides us with the first measure of his strategic Asian vision. Last week, deputy Chinese Prime Minister Qian Qichen met for 55 minutes with the president, where Mr. Qian made denial of the Aegis sale Chinas most important objective. The Chinese claim to fear that if Taiwan had the Aegis system (which would take eight to ten years to bring on line) it could encourage Taiwan to resist Chinese pressure, lead to greater cooperation between Washington and Taiwan and strengthen the pro-independence movement in Taiwan.
But Taiwan and its Republican allies in Congress argue that selling the Aegis and other advanced weapon systems would provide Taiwan with the confidence to negotiate a peaceful resolution of its differences with Beijing. It has been, and remains, bipartisan American policy to encourage peaceful, uncoerced negotiations between Taiwan and the mainland leading to a united, single China. Thus, whether greater Taiwanese military strength would lead to Taiwan seeking independence (as China claims) or peaceful negotiations (as the Republicans and Taiwan argue) is the central analytical point in dispute. The other great imponderable is whether a sale of the Aegis to Taiwan would drive China into a more dangerous, strategic hostility to the United States, or whether it would render the Chinese more realistic and cooperative in the face of such American toughness.
Mr. Qian had threatened, prior to his meeting with Mr. Bush, that the proposed sale of the Aegis system would increase the chance of military conflict. But Bush officials said that he was "more restrained" in his Oval Office comments directly to the president.
According to the New York Times, after that meeting, Bush administration officials said that the president would make a decision on the exact package of arms sales to Taiwan in April, but that "the Chinese could best affect shipments by working to reduce tensions along the Taiwan Strait." But Mr. Bushs quick apparent decision against Taiwan would seem to belie that explanation by unnamed administration officials.
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Bush highlighted his differences with Bill Clinton on China. In a major national defense speech in September 1999, Mr. Bush emphasized the need to counter the Chinese missile threat, although he did not speak specifically about the Aegis system, which the Chinese believe could eventually become a platform for a regional missile shield.
More recently, Mr. Bush has called China a "competitor," and had signaled that he intends to tilt his Asia policy away from China and towards Japan an alliance that has been the foundation of our Asia policy for almost a half-century. Bill Clinton had tilted to China, going so far as to call China a "strategic partner," snubbing Japan at Chinas request and turning down Taiwans request for the Aegis system, again at Chinas request.
But when Mr. Bush came to this first big decision on Asian military policy, he continued Mr. Clintons position. While opposing the Aegis sale hardly constitutes an embrace by Mr. Bush of Mr. Clintons overall China strategy, it is a missed opportunity to match action to rhetoric. He will surely get further opportunities but they wont get any easier; and they will get more urgent.
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