US remains split on jet engine sale

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 January, 1993, 12:00am

AMERICAN officials meeting behind closed-doors have failed to reach a decision on the sale of sensitive jet engine technology to China amid fears that Beijing will divert the know-how to boost its missile capabilities.

And CIA Director Mr Robert Gates has said in a report there is evidence China has obtained some of the technology for the US-made Patriot anti-missile system.

Sources in Washington said higher-level White House meetings may be held in coming days in a final effort to reach a decision on the engine sale before outgoing president Mr George Bush leaves office on January 20.

Officials are bitterly divided on whether to allow the sale and sources said a final ruling may have to be left to the incoming Clinton administration.

The closed-door meeting was chaired by the National Security Council and attended by senior officials from State, Commerce and Defence departments.

Both the State and Commerce departments favour the sale of the jet engines which China wants to buy for its trainer warplanes.

But Defence officials are vehemently opposed to the technology transfer, arguing the Chinese could use the engines to power cruise missiles.

A White House source who confirmed the impasse at the meeting said it was erroneous to believe the jet engine technology would enhance China's missile capabilities.

This suggests the White House is leaning towards the sale. Mr Bush has in past weeks taken several steps to remove some friction in Sino-US ties, including permission for certain arm sales and the restoration of high-level contacts with Beijing that werefrozen in the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown.

The Commerce Department strongly favours the transfer because it involves the sale of several hundred jet engines that could bring US$500 million (HK$3.87 billion) worth of business to American exporters.

Commerce officials insist that the technology involved is so unsophisticated that an export licence required for the sale of high-tech equipment to communist countries such as China may not even be needed in this case.

Officials said the question of whether an export licence was required was still under review by an inter-agency committee.

State Department officials said the US had already sold a small number of jet engines to China and the new controversy involved permission for the joint-production of the engines in China.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times quoted Mr Gates as saying US administration officials were divided over the question of whether the Patriot-related technology acquired by Beijing had come from Israel.

''There is some indication that they [the Chinese] have some of the technology,'' the newspaper quoted Mr Gates as saying.