Washington Times

U.S. might sell missile shields to aid Taiwan

By Bill Gertz

Washington, November 24, 1999

The State Department said yesterday it is watching the buildup of Chinese missiles near Taiwan and is considering sales of missile defenses to counter it.

"We have made clear to the Chinese government our concerns regarding Chinese missile developments and their influence on the situation in the Taiwan Strait," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said in response to a report in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times.

"We have a strong interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," he told reporters. "That is why we have approved defensive-arms sales to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act."

Clinton administration officials have told The Times that Chinese forces are expanding a missile base across from Taiwan and will deploy nearly 100 advanced short-range missiles there capable of hitting the island. "Are they doing some construction there of a probable missile facility? Yes," said a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters news agency yesterday on the condition of anonymity.

In Taipei, Foreign Minister Jason Hu criticized the new development. "This is strictly not helpful in reducing tensions and maintaining peace and security in our region," he told The Times in a telephone interview. "Furthermore," he declared, "it does not help the [People's Republic of China] in its avowed efforts to improve relations with the United States."

Mr. Rubin declined to comment directly on the new missile base, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters. However, he said the administration is monitoring closely the military balance in the Taiwan Strait and is considering the sale of theater missile-defense systems to Taiwan, a move China opposes.

"We do not preclude the possible sale of such systems to Taiwan in the future," Mr. Rubin said. "Our interest, however, is in preserving peace and stability in the region and any final decision will be made on that basis."

The statement echoed the remarks of Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, who said in a recent interview that the United States is justified in providing missile defenses to Taiwan because China is deploying 500 to 600 missiles opposite the island.

Asked later about the possible theater missile-defense sales, Mr. Rubin said in an interview that the United States has "an active dialogue" with the Taiwanese government on the issue.

However, specific sales of effective missile defenses are "premature," he said, because advanced missile defenses such as the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, are still under development. Such missile defenses now are foreseen only as protection for U.S. troops in the region, he said.

Mr. Rubin said the Taiwanese have purchased some U.S. anti-aircraft weapons that have some capability to hit incoming missiles. They include an early version of the Patriot anti-missile system, as well as the HAWK, Chaparral and Sky Guard air-defense systems, and the vehicle-mounted Stinger Avenger anti-aircraft missile.

Senior White House and State Department officials have resisted requests to provide Taiwan with more-advanced Patriot systems, or with the future Army THAAD and Navy Theater Wide systems when they are deployed, according to Pentagon officials.

A U.S. spy satellite photographed construction at the Chinese missile base at Yangang, located about 275 miles from Taiwan, in mid-October. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the base is being readied for deployment of China's new CSS-7 Mod 2, an advanced version of a short-range missile also known as the M-11.

The Chinese are expected to deploy a brigade of the new missiles, which analysts say will include 16 truck-mobile launchers and 96 missiles. The mobile missiles have a range of about 300 miles and will be armed with several types of conventional warheads, including high-explosive, cluster bombs, fuel-air explosive and electromagnetic pulse payloads.

The missiles also could be armed with nuclear warheads -- warheads that U.S. intelligence believes were developed from stolen U.S. nuclear secrets.

Tensions have increased between China and Taiwan over the past several months since Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui said relations with the mainland should be carried out on a state-to-state basis. The remarks were denounced by Beijing, which opposes any declaration of independence by the island it regards as a province.

Mr. Rubin said it is "wildly inaccurate" for U.S. officials to claim the State Department agrees with China's opposition to sales of advanced missile defenses to Taiwan.

A U.S. official and specialist on the Chinese military told The Times that the department is ignoring China's missile buildup, a modernization program the Pentagon says will total up to 650 missiles by 2005.

In a related development, Mr. Rubin said the administration opposes a bill now being debated in Congress to increase the amount and quality of defensive arms sold to Taiwan. The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act currently is on hold in the House, based on a request to delay consideration of the measure until after China is allowed to join the World Trade Organization, congressional aides said.

"We have opposed that law under the basic formula that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " Mr. Rubin said. "We have a very good working system, a set of communiques and laws that deal with the U.S.-Taiwan military relationship."

Republicans in Congress, however, have said the administration has violated those laws by failing to consult closely with Congress on arms sales and for denying Taipei's repeated requests for such weapons as submarines, advanced air-to-air missiles and missile defenses.

Mr. Rubin also criticized China's government for its comments about Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. Mr. Bush said in a speech Friday that, if he were president, he would help Taiwan defend itself and would view China as a competitor and not a "strategic partner."

"Any attempt to have China checked does not conform with the fundamental interests of the people of Asia-Pacific," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told reporters in Beijing.

"We have a very, very profoundly different view than the Chinese Foreign Ministry or the Chinese government, about their vision for the future," Mr. Rubin said. "And so they are entitled to their views. But I think it would probably behoove them to spend more time worrying about their vision than worrying about the vision of American politicians."