- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

The United States should send advanced air-launch missiles to Taiwan based on China's recent test firing of similar missiles, four U.S. senators said in a letter to the State Department.
"We believe that China's test of the AA-12s should trigger the transfer of the AIM-120s to Taiwan as soon as they are produced," the senators told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a letter sent Monday.
The senators were responding to a report in The Washington Times July 1 that stated that China's military had test fired two Russian-made AA-12 air-to-air missiles, altering the military balance in Beijing's favor regarding air-to-air missiles.
According to the letter, U.S. policy prohibits shipping U.S. AIM-120 missiles to Taiwan because the United States does not want to be the first to introduce an advanced missile capability into the region. Under the current plan, the missiles would be stored in the United States and transferred to Taiwan if needed in a conflict or until China obtains a similar capability.
U.S. intelligence officials said two Chinese Su-30 jet fighters last month conducted test firings of two AA-12 missiles.
The senators said in their letter that "developments over the last several weeks suggest that China has acquired such a capability."
The letter was signed by Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire and Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, also signed the letter.
The senators quoted a Pentagon report as saying that the balance of air power will shift in China's favor by 2005 based on trends unless Taiwan's air capabilities are improved.
"It is clear that absent U.S. transfer to Taiwan of the AIM-120 missiles, the introduction of the AA-12 into China's arsenal represents a major shift in air power" in the region, the senators stated.
"This means that we cannot afford to quibble over whether the AA-12 tests mean that China has an 'operational' capability," they said. "Therefore we respectfully request that you allow the AIM-120s to be released next month, whether it be through a determination that the trigger has been met, or through a policy change that recognizes the gravity of the situation."
The senators also urged the State Department to encourage the sale of additional AIM-120s by telling the Taiwanese government that future missiles would be sent to Taiwan, not stored in the United States.
Taiwan's government purchased the 120 missiles, known as AMRAAMs, for advanced, medium-range air-to-air missiles, in 2000. The first missiles will be produced next month, and the Taiwanese government is considering the purchase of an additional 286 missiles.
The new sale, however, could be rejected under legislation pending in the Taiwanese parliament that would prohibit the purchase unless the State Department allows the missiles to be sent to the island.
U.S. officials said several Pentagon officials favor sending the missiles to Taiwan.
Some in the State Department are said to be opposed to sending the missiles because they have questioned the intelligence reports indicating the AA-12s are operational.
The Chinese AA-12 test was not mentioned in the Pentagon's annual report on Chinese military power that was released Friday. The report said China is engaged in a military buildup that targets Taiwan, as well as Japan and the Philippines.

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