The Bush administration has asked Israel to halt arms sales and technology transfers to China in a bid to reduce Beijing’s growing military threat to Taiwan, U.S. officials said yesterday.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the appeal was made during regular consultations between U.S. and Israeli officials.
“During these consultations, the United States has made very clear the strategic implications for U.S. security interests, of Israel’s defense trade and transfer of U.S.-made equipment and advanced defense technologies to China,” Mr. Boucher told reporters.
Disclosures yesterday about U.S. concerns over Israeli arms sales to China followed U.S. intelligence reports in July that Israel sold China several anti-radar drone missiles known as Harpys.
The Harpy drones a propeller-powered cruise missile that homes in on radar signals were spotted in June with Chinese military forces near Taiwan, U.S. intelligence officials said. The arms transfer was first reported by The Washington Times on July 2.
Mr. Boucher said the appeals to Israel on its arms sales to China are based on strategic concerns and not related to “commercial considerations,” as Israeli defense officials told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which first reported the U.S. worries.
The newspaper quoted the officials as saying Israel has suspended all contacts for exports of arms and security equipment to China in response to the U.S. requests, made last month.
U.S. companies have been barred from selling China military goods since the 1989 massacre of protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
In a related development, the State Department has accused two U.S. aerospace companies of illegally giving China missile technology.
A letter sent to Hughes Electronics Corp. and Boeing Satellite Systems accuses the two companies of 123 technology transfer violations related to two Chinese rocket failures in 1995 and 1996 attempts to boost U.S.-made satellites into space.
“The number and the substance of the charges reflect the seriousness of the violations,” Mr. Boucher said. “Any assistance to improve the launch vehicle is clearly prohibited by the U.S.-China bilateral agreement on technology safeguards.”
U.S. officials have said the technology provided by the companies improved the reliability of Chinese space launchers, which are the same systems used to launch Chinese nuclear warheads.
Regarding the Israel-China cooperation, Mr. Boucher would not say what specific items or technology Israel had supplied to China. But he mentioned the aborted sale to Beijing in 2000 of Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control aircraft.
“The United States and Israel share many strategic interests, and just as we are sensitive to Israel’s strategic interest, we believe that Israel should be and is sensitive to ours,” Mr. Boucher said.
The concerns deal with “advanced technologies that might be introduced in a region,” Mr. Boucher said, without providing further details.
The spokesman said the consultations have focused on “the need for any suppliers of weaponry to be considerate and concerned about this strategic situation and region that’s of great sensitivity and importance to us.”
Asked to specify U.S. strategic concerns, Mr. Boucher said: “I don’t think I can explain the entire strategic situation in Asia, but certainly the situation in the Taiwan Straits has been the primary concern over some of these sales.”
Israeli government officials were surprised by the administration’s appeal but agreed to comply in order not to undermine billions in U.S. aid, the Associated Press reported.
“Everyone learned from the Phalcon issue,” an Israeli official said. “No one wants things like that to happen again.”
An Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said yesterday that the security ties between Israel and China “will continue in an orderly way.”
“Periodically, concrete issues arise that require more discussion between ourselves and China and between ourselves and the U.S., and these talks influence specific subjects,” the spokesman said.
A Bush administration official said the demand that Israel stop selling military goods and technology to China is part of a new push to halt the spread of arms to unstable regions, including Taiwan.
The discovery of the Harpy drones deployed near Taiwan was a key item of discussion with the Israelis in talks, the official said.
Israel also announced last year that it was selling China several commercial communications satellites, known as Amos, which U.S. officials fear that the Chinese military could use.
It is not known whether the satellite deal will be halted under the Israeli freeze.
The Amos deal was concluded between Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI), which lost out in the Phalcon sale, and China’s Hong Kong Space Technologies. IAI also makes Harpy drones.
The first Amos satellites, designated HKSAT-1 and HKSAT-2, are to be delivered to China for launch on a Chinese booster in the coming months.
Mark Regev, an Israeli Embassy spokesman, said Israel supports U.S. strategic trade controls.
“Clearly, Israel is committed to the United States’ concerns when it comes to weapons deals or technology deals with third countries,” Mr. Regev said. “Israel will not do anything to negatively impact U.S. national security. We take that commitment very seriously.”
The U.S. government has accused Israel in the past of passing to China sensitive U.S. military technology, including know-how related to Patriot air-defense missiles and F-16 jet fighters.
According to defense analyst Richard Fisher, China’s new J-10 jet fighter “contains technology from the U.S. F-16 that was transferred from Israel via the Lavi,” a since-canceled project for an improved Israeli-made F-16.
“That Israeli design was then transferred in parts to China to help design the J-10,” said Mr. Fisher, a private-sector specialist on the Chinese military.
Both Israel and China escaped sanctions from the U.S. government for the improper transfer of U.S. weapons technology to China.
China has produced 10 J-10s and recently moved the first batch of fighters to an airfield in southern China, according to Chinese press reports.
Recent photographs taken from U.S. reconnaissance planes over the South China Sea showed Chinese interceptor aircraft armed with Israeli-made Python-3 air-to-air missiles.
Abraham Rabinovich contributed to this report from Jerusalem.