JERUSALEM – The United States has asked Israel to suspend sales of military equipment to China over concerns that the technology could be used to threaten Taiwan, officials and the media said Thursday.
Israeli government officials were surprised by the U.S. request but had to comply in order not to jeopardize Washington's massive defense assistance program to Israel, the Haaretz daily said.
Two years ago, Israel pulled out of a deal to supply China with a sophisticated airborne radar system after the Pentagon warned that the early warning planes could be used in an armed conflict with Taiwan. Israel was forced to pay $350 million as compensation after it canceled the contract.
Beijing considers Taiwan a rebellious province and wants it to reunite with China. An improvement in China's military capabilities could intimidate Taiwan into agreeing to integration on Beijing's terms or help conquer it if peaceful means fail.
Military ties between Israel and China have grown quickly over the past decade, and Haaretz said some Israeli officials believe the real reason for Washington's opposition stemmed from the fact that U.S. defense companies were trying to break into China's market and wanted to eliminate their Israeli competitors.
An official at the U.S. Embassy, while refusing to confirm that Israel has been asked to suspend the sales, noted that "the sale of military equipment to China affects the strategic interests of the United States. The government of Israel knows that."
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said talks between Israel and Washington on the issue have been going on for some time.
Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Ministry, would not comment directly on the suspension. "Periodically, concrete issues arise that require more discussion between ourselves and China and between ourselves and the United States," she said.
U.S.-China military relations have been steadily improving after traveling a rocky road during the past decade. The two sides are currently finalizing an agreement on resuming military exchanges, reached during a summit between Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President Bush last month.
In November, a U.S. battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS Constellation arrived in Hong Kong for a four-day port call, and a U.S. destroyer visited the port of Qingdao. It was the first port call to mainland China by a U.S. warship since military ties were ruptured following the collision of a Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet in April 2001.