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Bush Decides to Sell Taiwan Weapons, Not Radar System

By Edwin Chen
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Staking out a middle ground between angering China and helping Taiwan, President Bush has decided to sell Taiwan older destroyers, diesel submarines, sub-hunting aircraft and a new version of Patriot air defense missiles -- but not the advanced radar system sought by the Taipei government, U.S. officials said Monday.

However, the president intends to reconsider Taiwan’s request next year, according to one top Republican senator who was briefed by Pentagon officials.

The deferral invites China to diminish the likelihood of the United States selling its Aegis equipment to Taiwan by cutting back the number of missiles it has pointed at Taiwan.

An announcement of Bush’s decision, expected as early as Tuesday, comes barely three weeks after the collision between an American surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea that sharpened tensions between the two countries. China detained the American crew for 11 days before releasing them on April 12.

The arms package is likely to elicit strong public opposition in Beijing -- but also a private sense of relief.

While the Chinese government blasts any weapons sales to Taiwan as unacceptable foreign interference, it had concentrated its lobbying efforts against the Aegis system rather than the entire list of arms that Washington might sell. China’s leaders fear that Aegis, combined with U.S. plans for a theater missile defense system, would embolden Taiwan to put off the idea of reunification perhaps indefinitely.

For its part, the government in Taipei had readied itself for a denial of its request for Aegis-equipped naval destroyers. But the Kidd-class ships and the diesel submarines would be welcome additions in the event of an attempted blockade by the Chinese navy.

The president’s decision is all but certain to be criticized by “a fair number” of pro-Taiwan Republican senators, predicted Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The dispute with China over the surveillance plane raised the ire of many China critics, who pushed the Bush administration to take a tougher line against Beijing -- in part by giving Taiwan the weapons it requested.