Thu, Aug 28, 2008 - Page 3 News List

US grants contract for missiles

THAWING AT LAST?The US$89.7 million contract awarded to Boeing was for arms destined for Taiwan, although unrelated to weapons purchases frozen since last year

By Richard Hazeldine  /  STAFF REPORTER

The US Department of Defense on Tuesday took what Taiwan hopes were the first steps to unfreezing US$12 billion in arms purchases when it awarded a contract for 60 Harpoon air-launched missiles destined for Taiwan, Defense News reported in an article on Tuesday.

Defense News Asia bureau chief Wendell Minnick said the US$89.7 million contract, awarded to Boeing on Monday, was unrelated to the frozen weapons systems.

Nevertheless, the news could fuel speculation in Taipei that Washington is preparing to restart the process of congressional notifications for the weapons systems, most of which were first offered to Taiwan by US President George W. Bush in 2001.

The US government — Taiwan’s sole supplier of advanced weaponry — is believed to have imposed the freeze on arms sales to Taiwan last year, although the policy has not been confirmed by administration officials.

Many analysts have speculated the move was an attempt to curry favor with China ahead of Bush’s trip to the Beijing Olympics and to secure China’s diplomatic cooperation on a range of issues, including six-party nuclear talks with North Korea.

The freeze had sparked concern in Taiwan and among its supporters in the US that the ban on arms sales could extend into the term of the next president and eventually become permanent in the face of China’s growing clout on the international stage.

These fears led 14 US senators to write to Bush last month expressing their concerns about the freeze, which they said “would violate the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act.” The act legally binds the US government to provide Taiwan with the “defense articles and services that enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) made Taiwan’s concerns about the delayed arms sales plain to US officials during a visit to the US early this month, while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has repeatedly urged the US government to proceed with the sales “according to due legal process.”

The weapons systems affected by the freeze include PAC-3 batteries, a feasibility study on the building of eight diesel submarines, submarine-launched Harpoon missiles, 30 Apache Longbow attack helicopters and 60 Black Hawk helicopters.

With Bush’s trip to Beijing now concluded, the hope in Taiwan is that the notifications for the major weapons systems could come soon.

This seems likely after Defense News also reported that Tuesday’s missile announcement came after Washington on Aug. 21 granted two small Foreign Military Sales contracts for equipment destined for Taiwan.

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