31 Mar 04. Reuters reported that the Pentagon said on Wednesday it planned to sell Taiwan long-range early warning radar equipment worth as much as $1.78 billion, a deal five years in the works but bound to anger arch-foe China at a tense time in cross-straits relations.
The ground-based ultra high frequency radars will boost Taiwan’s ability to “identify and detect ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and air-breathing target threats,” it said in a notice to the U.S. Congress. Air breathing target threats are weapons systems that operate in the Earth’s atmosphere, as opposed to space.
U.S. officials said there was no link to fallout from the disputed March 20 re-election of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian. “Nothing should be read into the timing of this announcement,” said Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman. “It was the next step in a long process,” he added in response to a query from Reuters. Taiwan formally requested the surveillance radars in a letter to the Defense Department in December under the U.S. foreign military sales program, Plexico said. On Monday, Chen declared his narrow re-election victory was a mandate to press toward formal independence despite the risk of war with China, which has aimed about 500 short-range missiles across the narrow strait dividing them.
The sale “will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security and Cooperation Agency said in its notice to Congress.
DEAL IN WORKS SINCE 1999
The deal has been in the works since 1999, when it was approved in principle by former President Bill Clinton, said Shirley Kan, an expert on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan at the research arm of the Library of Congress. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is obligated to supply weapons powerful enough for Taiwan “to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” against a Chinese attack. Beijing, which deems Taiwan a wayward province, threatened to intervene after Chen won a second four-year term in an election that faces an opposition challenge. The two sides split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Kan said the defense committee of Taiwan’s parliament approved funding for the radars in November.
A Taiwan official said he expected a contract for the work to be awarded soon. Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are the two largest U.S. companies expected to bid for the project, which would be worth $1.77 billion if all options are exercised, the Pentagon said. U.S. analysts said Beijing, which opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as interference in China’s internal affairs, may be particularly angry at what it could see as a step toward neutralizing its nuclear deterrent capability.
“There’s a danger Beijing could overreact based on its long-time concerns over missile defense for Taiwan and the region,” said retired Rear Adm. Eric McVadon, the U.S. defense and naval attache in China from 1990 to 1992 and now an East Asia security consultant. Xinhua news agency said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, during a meeting in Berlin with Secretary of State Colin Powell, urged the United States to avoid any official contact with Taiwan and stick to a “one-China” policy. Li apparently made the comments before the Pentagon’s arms sale announcement.