Taiwan needs naval weapons, U.S. assessment finds

Beijing is vehement in opposing such arms


TAIPEI, Taiwan - A confidential review by U.S. naval officers has concluded that Taiwan needs a significant infusion of new weapons, including a sophisticated ship-borne radar system that China has put at the top of the list of arms it does not want Taiwan to have.

The assessment was carried out by officers from the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who visited Taiwan to assess its naval requirements in light of China's military buildup. While military factors are not the only consideration, the still-secret review is an important element of the deliberations about whether to sell Taiwan the radar system, known as Aegis, and other naval weapons.

The decision on whether to sell naval, air force and army weapons, which President Bush is expected to make in the next few weeks, is one of the first major foreign policy tests for his administration and could set the tone of U.S.-Chinese relations for years to come.

China has bitterly opposed the sale of sophisticated weapons, which it fears will lead to a new degree of cooperation between Taiwan and the United States and buttress pro-independence sentiment on the island.

Beijing has singled out as particularly objectionable the potential sales of three types of weapons:

The Navy's Aegis, which China fears may provide the basis for an eventual anti-missile defense and blunt China's missile threat to the island.

The Army's advanced Patriot anti-missile system known as PAC-3.

And submarines, which China maintains are offensive weapons and which the United States has never before sold to Taiwan. Taiwan has sought to buy submarines as well as the Aegis and has been in discussions about the new Patriot system.

In addition to mentioning a need for the Aegis system by 2010, the U.S. naval officers who conducted the review concluded that Taiwan also needs the Kidd-class destroyer as a stopgap. And they cited the need for new submarines as well as an underwater sonar array to detect Chinese subs. Besides the naval review, similar studies have been carried out concerning other parts of Taiwan's military.

The pending decision on arms sales has split American China hands, including those in the Republican Party, putting pressure on Bush from both sides.

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