U.S. Plans to Sell Radar to Taiwan to Monitor China
Washington, Friday, 30 April 1999
By Philip Shenon
The United States has decided to sell an early-warning radar system to Taiwan that would allow the Taiwanese to monitor the launch of Chinese ballistic missiles or manned bombers, Clinton administration officials said Thursday.
The sale has already drawn protests from Beijing and was opposed by a group of mid-level administration officials who believed that it would worsen recent tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The administration approved the sale at the recommendation of senior policy-makers from the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon who believed that China's deployment of large numbers of short-range missiles along its coastline posed a serious military threat to Taiwan, officials said.
A Defense Department report presented earlier this year to Congress found that "Taiwan's most significant vulnerability is its limited capacity to defend against the growing arsenal of Chinese ballistic missiles."
The radar system, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to U.S. defense contractors, would provide Taiwan with several minutes' warning of the launch of ballistic missiles on the mainland.
"I'm pleased that the administration has finally recognized that it is appropriate to help the Taiwanese protect themselves," said Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Affairs Committee. "If China is pointing missiles at Taiwan, I would expect Taiwan to try to defend itself."
Earlier in April, Gilman threatened to introduce legislation to permit the sale if the Clinton administration had refused to approve the radar deal.
He said in an interview that the Chinese had no reason to be concerned about the sale of the radar "because they're the ones putting the missiles along the coastline in the first place."
The spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Yu Shuning, said the embassy had already issued a formal protest to the Clinton administration over the decision on the radar sale. The deal was first reported earlier this week by news organizations in Taiwan.
"We have made serious representations with the U.S. side," Yu said. "We say that any arms sales to Taiwan by any country in the world constitutes an infringement on Chinese sovereignty, an interference in our internal affairs." Beijing considers Taiwan, the refuge for the Chinese Nationalists after their defeat by the Communists in 1949, a breakaway province.
Administration officials said opposition to the sale of the radars to Taiwan was voiced by mid-level officers at the White House and State Department who said that the deal would needlessly provoke China at a time when tensions are already high over trade disagreements and over allegations of Chinese nuclear espionage in the United States.
But government critics of the radar deal were overruled by superiors. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that top policy-makers at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon were all agreed that the sale should be approved.
"I think there was a fairly good meeting of the minds on this," the official said. "We have told the Taiwanese that we will meet their legitimate defensive needs. And a passive early-warning system is clearly a legitimate defensive need."
Administration officials said there was still no agreement with Taiwan over exactly what type of radar system would be approved, which companies would build it, and how much it would cost.
"This was an agreement in principal," the senior official said. "There wasn't a decision on a specific system." Among the contractors thought likely to be asked to bid on the contract are Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Thomson-CSF of France.
Taiwan's government said in a report in February that it had determined through intelligence sources that China had deployed more than 100 ballistic missiles that could be fired across the Taiwan Strait at the island. The Taiwanese have cited the intelligence in arguing the need for development of a missile-defense system.
The agreement on the radar system was reached during talks with senior Taiwan military officers who were in Washington this week on an annual arms buying tour.
Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which was passed by Congress after the United States broke off formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established ties to Beijing, the United States agreed to provide the island with the weapons that it needed to defend itself from attack by Beijing.
The Taiwan government had no comment Thursday on the radar sale. A spokesman for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, which serves as de facto embassy for Taiwan here, said that the Clinton administration had requested that it not issue any statement on the agreement.