WASHINGTON – A decision on what U.S. weapons to sell to Taiwan won't be linked with the recent standoff with China over an American spy plane, the Bush administration insists amid reports that the president's advisers think a sophisticated naval radar system should not be part of the deal.
Taiwan has presented the United States with a wish-list of arms needs, topped by diesel-powered submarines and U.S. destroyers outfitted with the state-of-the art Aegis battle management system.
Bush is to decide by next week what arms Taiwan will get -- a decision being watched closely in Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province. The matter threatens to harm already tense relations between China and the Bush administration.
Bush's senior national security advisers have recommended that Taiwan not get the Aegis-class destroyers, according to reports by CNN and The New York Times.
Advisers determined that Taiwan did not have the technical skill to operate the weaponry, which would protect Taiwan from missile attack, the Times reported in Wednesday's editions. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other officials during a security meeting Tuesday.
Bush's advisers did recommend the sale of other, less-advanced weapons systems, the Times and CNN reported. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said the Defense Department would discuss its final decision with Taiwanese representatives on April 24.
White House, State Department and Pentagon officials declined to discuss the reports Tuesday night.
Quigley said the question of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan is not on the agenda for the U.S delegation in Beijing for talks Wednesday on the April 1 collision of a Chinese fighter jet with a Navy surveillance plane and China's 11-day retention of the plane's crew.
"You're really talking two different issues there," Quigley told reporters Tuesday. "The one is driven by recent events and the other has its basis in the law."
The United States is obligated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to sell Taiwan weapons the island needs for its defense.
Tensions with China have also been building on other fronts.
Earlier this month, the United States submitted a resolution criticizing China's human rights record in another bid to have it censured by the United Nations. The resolution accused Beijing of repressing the Falun Gong spiritual movement, increasing restrictions on Tibetans and "harsh sentencing" of government opponents.
The measure goes for a vote this week before the U.N. Human Rights Commission is Geneva. In Washington, Falun Gong followers held a news conference Tuesday to urge the panel to support the measure. They later held a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy.
The April 1 collision forced the American plane to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan island. China released the plane's 24 crew members after 11 days. The damaged plane remains in China.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed the top priority of the meeting with China officials will be the prompt return of the Navy EP-3E aircraft.
"We want our airplane back, and we're going to make that point, and we would expect to get a response," he said.