Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The United States will sell arms to the Republic of China (Taiwan), despite Beijing’s objections, because of the growing Chinese missile buildup opposite the island, senior Bush administration officials said yesterday.

That message was delivered to Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing last week by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in response to Chinese complaints about Taiwan, including the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, said two officials who discussed some details of the meetings on the condition of anonymity.

Miss Rice also said in the meetings with Mr. Hu and former President Jiang Zemin, chairman of the powerful Communist Party commission that controls the military, that North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program must be halted soon.

“We asked them to make clear to North Korea that time was a factor and that we didn’t have forever,” the official said.

Miss Rice also pointed out that North Korean connections to the covert Pakistani nuclear-supplier group led by Abdul Qadeer Khan showed that Pyongyang has a highly-enriched-uranium-based weapons program (HEU), a charge that China has disputed in the past.

Miss Rice told the Chinese that “A.Q. Khan was not engaged in academic research,” the official said. “He was a nuclear-weapons expert, and his network existed for that purpose, and that North Korea has an HEU program.”

On Chinese opposition to Taiwan arms sales, Miss Rice said a weapons deal has been under way since April 2001 and is reaching the point of actual transfers, the official said.

Pending sales are expected to include Patriot anti-missile systems and P-3 anti-submarine aircraft. Taiwan also is negotiating to buy up to eight diesel electric submarines and several guided missile destroyers.

The Chinese leaders were told that although the Bush administration does not favor “unilateral change” by either China or Taiwan, arms sales are needed “because China’s missile buildup has created an imbalance on the [Taiwan] Strait, and we need to correct that.”

“They need to understand that,” the senior official said.

China has been deploying up to 75 short-range missiles a year within range of Taiwan for the past several years.

Beijing also is set to kick off large-scale war games near Taiwan this month, exercises that in the past were used as an attempt at political intimidation.

At the Chinese Embassy yesterday, a spokesman called in reporters to protest U.S. support for Taiwan.

“We are gravely concerned over the recent U.S. moves on the Taiwan question. We strongly urge the U.S. side to stop selling advanced arms to Taiwan and cut the military links between the U.S. and Taiwan. Stop any official exchanges with Taiwan authorities. Stop supporting Taiwan to join the international organizations where statehood is required,” spokesman Sun Wiede said.

The senior administration official said the spokesman’s comments were less strident than those heard in Beijing, where both Mr. Hu and Mr. Jiang told Miss Rice that China would not “sit idly by” while Taiwan moved to formal independence.

“They came at us very heavily on Taiwan,” said the official, who took part in the meetings.

The Chinese said they appreciated the U.S. position that it did not support Taiwanese independence, but also protested the administration’s adherence to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which permits defensive arms sales.

Miss Rice urged the Chinese to take up an offer made by Chen Shui-bian, the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), in his inaugural speech in May for China to resume talks with Taipei.

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