China on Tuesday denounced U.S. plans to sell weapons to Taiwan, warning the decision could exacerbate already strained ties with the United States.

"Washington must exercise prudence on the question of arms sales to Taiwan so as not to create new harm for relations," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a news conference.

U.S.-China relations are tense following an April 1 collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet that led to the 11-day detention of the 24-member American crew.

The White House said Monday that President Bush is offering Taiwan a panoply of military equipment, including submarines. But he deferred the sale of high-tech U.S. destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat radar system.

China had said an Aegis sale would be a major provocation. But Zhang said China was "seriously concerned" and "strongly opposed" to U.S. plans to sell less sophisticated destroyers and other weapons to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rebellious province.

Zhang said the sales would "seriously undermine China's sovereignty, interfere in China's internal affairs and will give rise to tension across the Taiwan Straits."

Although the final U.S.-Taiwan arms meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Washington, the White House said Bush agreed to sell Taiwan up to eight diesel submarines after the island upgrades its navy to handle the systems. Taiwan also could buy 12 P-3 Orion submarine-killer aircraft, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Taipei's annual request for American weapons has been the subject of intense speculation and attention in Taiwan for months. Many considered the issue to be a crucial test of whether the new Bush administration would lean toward Taiwan or its giant communist rival.

"I think this decision shows the Bush administration took Taiwan's defense needs seriously," said Parris Chang, a senior lawmaker with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party. "It also shows Bush understands that the balance of power is tilting toward China."

Improved Taiwanese defenses could frustrate China's attempts to intimidate Taiwan into agreeing to union on Beijing's terms or conquering it if peaceful means fail.

Li Ming-kao, a retired rear admiral and lawmaker with the opposition Nationalist Party, said Bush made a wise decision. "I feel very satisfied with the overall arms package," he said, adding that the Aegis-equipped ships became too politically sensitive and threatened to raise tensions to dangerous levels.

A pro-government scholar in China condemned the sale of any weapons to Taiwan.

"It's not a question of what weapons sales are more mistaken or less mistaken. All are mistaken," said Xu Bodong, head of the Taiwan Research Institute at Beijing's Union College.

Several Chinese on the street criticized the U.S. decision, saying Washington was violating their national sovereignty.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APTV 04-24-01 0605EDT