of Aegis Radar Might Harm
Peaceful Dialogue, China's Qian Says
Wall Street Journal, March 21
By PAUL E. STEIGER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL
NEW YORK -- On the eve of his
meeting with President Bush and top U.S. national-security
aides this week, China's vice premier said that an administration
sale to Taiwan of destroyers equipped with the sophisticated
Aegis radar system would be a "grave violation"
of a 1982 agreement with China signed by then-President
Reagan. He said such an action would move China and Taiwan
away from peaceful dialogue on their differences and toward
a "military solution."
vice premier, Qian Qichen, used a New York breakfast meeting
with U.S. journalists to give an unusually
broad outline of his negotiating position in advance of
meetings with Washington officials that start Wednesday
and culminate in a session with President Bush on Thursday.
Those talks may force the White House to decide, very early
in the new administration, some crucial parameters on how
it will deal with the world's largest nation, its most significant
Qian repeated but played down Chinese opposition to the
president's intention to develop missile defenses, making
clear that limiting arm sales to Taiwan tops his agenda.
The scope of the sales is expected to be decided in April.
expressed great enthusiasm for an expected visit by the
president to China in October, to attend a summit of Asia-Pacific
leaders in Shanghai and then to meet President Jiang Zemin
in Beijing. In general, he painted an optimistic vision
of prospects for relations between the two countries, provided
that tensions don't flare over Taiwan.
Qian gave China's most detailed description yet of how it
became involved in Iraq's obtaining of fiber-optic networks,
conceding that some such equipment from China has been installed
in Iraq but through a circuitous route without Beijing's
blessing. He said people involved have been "criticized
severely" and "we recalled those personnel."
defended increases in China's defense spending, saying that
at $17 billion a year it amounted to 5% of what the U.S.
is spending, one third of Japan's level and 50% of the United
Kingdom's. And he took a slap at one of China's most persistent
critics in Congress, Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Qian said he would encourage
the North Carolina Republican "to summon the courage
to visit China" and see for himself that political
conditions there aren't as negative as he believes.
Aside from that brief hard-edged
moment, Mr. Qian was for the most part genial and low-key,
even when issuing stern warnings on Taiwan. The Chinese
stance on Taiwan is that eventual unification of the island
and the mainland should proceed peacefully, provided that
outsiders don't interfere. Recently, Beijing officials have
softened assertions that Taiwan is a "renegade province."
Mr. Qian said both are equal participants in a dialogue
over unification, a process he said is threatened by an
aggressive minority in Taiwan promoting independence and
by some American conservatives supporting them.
Qian said the sale of the Aegis system to Taiwan would breach
Washington's 1982 pledge that future sales wouldn't exceed
then-current levels either in quantity or in quality. The
agreement -- enshrined in U.S.-China relations as the "Third
Communique" -- has been a recurring area of friction.
Even as it has upgraded its military and deployed hundreds
of missiles opposite Taiwan, Beijing has insisted Washington
stick to the pact.
argues that arms sales would be reduced as tensions in the
Taiwan Strait are lowered. It also has an obligation under
U.S. law to make sure that Taiwan can defend itself. An
Aegis sale would force China to think more in terms of a
military solution of the Taiwan issue, Mr. Qian said. Asked
if that meant a sale would provoke an immediate military
response from Beijing, he answered: "That all depends
on the circumstances."
administration has a variety of options, including allowing
the Aegis sale to go forward. For example, it can permit
the sale of the destroyers and other arms but withhold the
radar system until it sees whether China reduces the number
of missiles deployed near Taiwan. Last year the Clinton
administration postponed a decision on the Aegis system,
but permitted the sale of air-to-air defensive missiles
and a different long-range radar system.
Qian repeated China's opposition to a U.S. missile-defense
system, saying it could break the "global equilibrium"
and create a crisis. But he expressed more concern about
the possibility that Taiwan would be allowed to link into
a future U.S. theater-missile-defense system. The Aegis
system might serve as a platform for such participation.
In any case, the missile-defense issue seemed to evoke less
categorical opposition than an Aegis sale, which would be
the most significant U.S.-Taiwan arms deal since President
Bush's father, as president, permitted sales of F-16 fighters
to Taiwan in 1992.
On Iraq's acquisition of Chinese
fiber-optic technology, Mr. Qian said reports of a sale
"caught us unaware," and that Beijing's investigation
showed that while no Chinese company had signed a contract
with Iraq and no fiber-optic systems were sold directly
to that country, in violation of United Nations rules, some
were sold to "neighboring countries" and from
there made their way into Iraq.
-- Charles Hutzler in Beijing
and Carla Anne Robbins in Washington contributed to this
Paul Steiger at email@example.com