WASHINGTON -- 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 yesterday.
The sale has 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 A. Gilman, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House International Affairs Committee.
"If China is pointing missiles at Taiwan, I would expect Taiwan to try to defend itself."
The spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Yu Shuning, said the embassy had issued a formal protest to the Clinton administration over the decision on the radar sale.
The deal was first reported 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.