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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 05:32 GMT 06:32 UK
Taiwan sub deal under threat
Guppy class submarine
Some of Taiwan's current subs are of World War II vintage
By Rob Broomby in Berlin

Plans by US President George W Bush to sell weapons including eight diesel-powered submarines to Taiwan have received an embarrassing setback at the hands of European governments.

Neither the Germans nor the Dutch, the only two countries producing the diesel engines, are willing to allow the sale of the subs to Taiwan.

That leaves Mr Bush in the unusual position of having promised to sell technology his country does not control, and may have difficulty supplying.

President George W Bush
President Bush may have promised more than he can deliver
The military package is at the centre of a row between the United States and China, which has angrily condemned what it calls interference in its sovereign affairs.

US Government officials implied recently that the Germans or the Dutch may be able to supply the controversial subs.

However Juergen Rohweder, a spokesman for the German shipbuilders, HDV, told the BBC: "We have not been asked by the US or the Taiwanese Governments to sell the submarines."

He admitted the company would like a share of the $1.1bn deal, but "the German Government rules are clear", he said: "It's not allowed."

Exports forbidden

Michael Steiner, senior foreign policy adviser to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, was equally categorical.

"No application has been made and it would never be approved."

German and Dutch rules forbid arms exports to regions in crisis, and few relationships are as tense as that between China and Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

London-based defence analyst, Paul Beaver, of Jane's, the military analysts, said: "No European Union country would consider selling to Taiwan."

That leaves the United States in the unusual position of trying to work up its own submarine project.

The only company that could provide such submarines would be the Mississippi-based shipbuilding firm Ingalls, but they have not built a diesel-powered submarine since the 1960s.

No plans

Company spokesman Randy Belote told the BBC: "We have the capacity and capability to assist with the project," but admitted the firm did not have a design to work with.

Ingalls website
Ingalls website offers a range of services - but not diesel subs
"There are designs out there," he said, enigmatically, but refused to be drawn on the timescale for developing a diesel-powered submarine.

The company now builds nuclear powered vessels, a very different enterprise.

Defence experts doubt that Ingalls could build submarines that the Taiwanese could afford, as they would be starting almost from scratch.

"I wish them luck," said an official in Berlin with a touch of sarcasm.

The speculation began after a briefing by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

He was asked by reporters on Tuesday whether the Germans or the Dutch had been consulted about the Taiwanese arms sale.

He said that "procurement decisions, contracting decisions" would be made "down the road" and "it would not be appropriate to make those decisions or consultations prior to the announcement to the Taiwanese of the weapons that we are prepared to sell to them".

The diesel subs would be part of a package of advanced US arms which would include Kidd-class destroyers and P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft.

Angry reaction

China condemned the military package, even though it did not include state-of-the-art Aegis destroyers asked for by Taiwan.

Chinese state television quoted Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing as saying the deal was tantamount to "open provocation".

"The US behaviour can only bring arrogance to Taiwan separatist forces aiming to split China," Mr Li was reported to have told the US Ambassador to Beijing, Joseph Prueher.

The Bush administration in turn said Beijing could stem the flow of weapons to Taiwan by toning down its military threat to the island.

Relations between Washington and Beijing are still strained as they negotiate the return of an American spy plane, forced down on the island of Hainan in the South China Sea, after a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter plane.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Brookes
"America likes to keep everybody guessing as to how far they would intervene"
The BBC's Rob Watson
"US policy on Taiwan has always been deliberately ambiguous"

Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | Americas
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
20 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
16 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
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