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The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Taiwan is one of the potential flash points"
 real 56k

Monday, 2 April, 2001, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK
Analysis: Strained US-China ties
Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qicheng and President George Bush (March 2001)
Qian and Bush disagree over US arms sales to Taiwan
By Damian Grammaticas in Taipei

The collision of a United States surveillance aircraft with a Chinese fighter jet comes at a sensitive time for relations between the two countries.

In the next week or two President George Bush is due to make a decision that could set the tone for dealings between his administration and China.

The issue before the president is what arms to sell to Taiwan, which is seeking to buy a large number of weapons to bolster its defences against China.

The arms sale is the most serious of a number of issues complicating US-China relations.

Chinese opposition

Military and political figures in Taiwan are anxiously awaiting President Bush's answer.

Shanghai locals pass a newspaper featuring news of the planes' collision
China could use the collision to put pressure on Bush
They believe Taiwan must strengthen its defences in the face of a build-up of Chinese missiles across the Taiwan Strait and have asked for sophisticated armaments.

The fact that an American EP-3 surveillance aircraft is now sitting on the runway of a Chinese airbase on Hainan Island makes the president's decision that much more sensitive.

His first priority will be to get the return of the aircraft and crew.

But China last month dispatched its Vice-Premier, Qian Qichen, to Washington to argue against the arms sales.

US academics arrested

Beijing has already blamed the United States for the collision that damaged the American plane and caused one of its jets to crash, and it could seek to use the incident to put pressure on the new administration.

US-based academic Gao Zhan
US-based academic Gao Zhan has been arrested in China
Washington's relations with China have also been complicated by news of the detention of at least two American Chinese academics on the mainland.

One, Li Shaomin, was seized after he crossed the border from Hong Kong, where he is based.

The second Gao Zhan, has been accused of spying.

China-US tensions
May 1999: US missile in Kosovo campaign mistakenly hits China embassy in Belgrade
January 2001: George W Bush becomes US President. Pledges tough line with China on arms sales to Taiwan/national missile defence shield
February 2001: US attacks China human rights record
March 2001: Second US-based academic arrested on China trip
April 2001: US surveillance plane lands in China
Other incidents which have contributed to a rise in tension are revelations about the defection of a high-ranking People's Liberation Army officer to the United States and America's plans to create a national missile defence shield.

One of the reasons Beijing opposes the forthcoming arms sale to Taiwan is that it fears the island might be given Arleigh Burke class destroyers equipped with America's Aegis anti-missile defence system.

That would bring Taiwan a step closer to being protected by a missile defence shield.

Reports from Washington over the weekend suggested the president has to make a decision about the arms sale, but the next few days could test his administration to the full.

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See also:

02 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
US rejects jet crash blame
22 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Tension in US-China talks
30 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests another US academic
23 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Key Chinese army officer defects
13 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
US report urges Taiwan arms sales
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
US wary of Chinese military build-up
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