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    Aegis Sales - Qian Qichen's Visit

Visiting Chinese to Urge Bush Not to Sell Arms to Taiwan

By Craig S. Smith

New York Times, March 12, 2001

SHANGHAI, March 11 ?Deputy Premier Qian Qichen, the highest- ranking Chinese official to visit Washington in two years, is expected to urge President Bush next week not to sell more advanced weapons to Taiwan.


Mr. Qian, a former foreign minister, continues to play a key role in Taiwan policy and will be visiting just weeks before Mr. Bush must decide which weapons the United States will sell Taiwan this year.


Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is obligated to provide Taiwan with equipment to defend itself, and in April the two sides conclude their annual arms sales talks, one of the most fractious issues in Chinese-American relations.


Beijing is concerned that Mr. Bush will take a more aggressive stance than his predecessor, and is bothered by Mr. Bush's rhetorical shift toward describing China as a "strategic competitor," rather than the "strategic partner" seen by the Clinton administration.


Perry Link, a China scholar at Princeton University, said: "Qian is a skilled diplomat and smooth talker and wants, I think, to smooth things out with the new Bush people, try to get them as far as possible back to where the Chinese government had the Clinton people, both in general- viewing China as a partner more than an adversary- and on the particular issue of arms sales to Taiwan."


Last year, President Clinton deferred making a decision on selling Taiwan Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Aegis radar systems.


But Taiwan's request for the ships remains on the table. The Aegis system could someday be adapted for use in the kind of naval theater missile defense which Mr. Bush supports but China vehemently opposes.


Taiwan has indicated that it may also ask the administration to sell it four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, which are less powerful than the Arleigh Burke ships but would nonetheless be the largest and most powerful in Taiwan's Navy.


Either class of ships would represent the most significant weapons transfer by the United States to Taiwan since Mr. Bush's father sold it 150 advanced F-16 fighter aircraft in 1992. China charged that the sale breached a 1982 joint communiqué in which Washington vowed not to increase the quantity or quality of arms sold to Taiwan.


Mr. Qian was quoted Friday by the state-run, English-language China Daily as saying the Taiwan issue was "not only a problem left over by China's civil war, it is also the result of U.S. military intervention as the United States has kept selling advanced weapons to Taiwan."


Those comments followed a warning on Tuesday by Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan that the United States should recognize the "serious dangers involved" in providing more weapons to Taiwan.

Mr. Qian is likely to emphasize that a relaxation of tensions between China and Taiwan could be undone by more arms sales.


Beijing has supported a series of low-level official contacts with Taiwan politicians. Direct shipping links have also begun with the Taiwan islands of Quemoy and Matsu.


Mr. Qian has made overtures to Taiwan by softening Beijing's language on its terms for re-unification.

"What we adhere to is one China that embraces the mainland and Taiwan," China Daily quoted him as saying on Friday. "We understand the aspirations of Taiwan compatriots to maintain the status quo."

Mr. Qian said he would also discuss with American officials China's opposition to the proposed development of a missile defense system.


The United States will be eager to hear how China proposes to spend its increased military budget. Beijing announced last week that military spending would rise 17.7 percent this year, compared with a 12 percent increase last year.


Mr. Qian's five-day visit to Washington and New York will begin March 18. His visit coincides with the March 19 session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where Washington is expected to support a motion condemning China's abuses of human rights.


He is scheduled to see Mr. Bush on March 22, and is likely to ask him if he will visit China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in Shanghai in October.


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