-- Accusing the Bush administration of "carping" and "outside interference," China issued a sharp complaint Monday after Israel cancelled a controversial Israeli-Chinese arms deal under pressure from the United States.
The Israeli decision halted the sale of drone aircraft capable of seeking out radar installations. It was the result of a U.S. campaign to block China from obtaining advanced military technology that could be used against Taiwan and U.S. forces supporting the island in any confrontation.
As part of the campaign, the Bush administration also pressured European countries against lifting their arms embargo on China, winning at least a delay in a decision to do so. The Israeli government's decision is similar to its cancellation in 2000 of a $1 billion deal to sell Phalcon early warning radar planes to China.
The Israeli cancellation caused irritation in Beijing, where the government has been pushing a military modernization program to bring the People's Liberation Army into the high-tech age and strengthen its ability to dissuade Taiwan from declaring formal independence.
Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing visited Jerusalem last week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also there to discuss, among other things, the Bush administration's argument against the arms deal. While the content of Li's discussions with Israeli officials was not revealed, he was believed to be urging completion of the sale.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, reacting Monday to reports of the cancellation, said cooperation "in every respect" between Israel and China was good not only for the two countries involved, but also for the prospect of peace and stability in the Middle East. Such contact will not harm other countries, the ministry added, referring to the United States.
"Therefore, other countries should not be carping about this," a statement said. "We believe both sides, in developing their bilateral ties, should support the principles of independence and sovereignty and overcome the factor of outside interference."
The disputed deal involved new, improved components for Harpy anti-radar drones. Israel Aircraft Industries sold about 100 of the delta-winged drones to China for more than $50 million in the mid and late 1990s. The aircraft, which have a range of about 310 miles, were considered important because they could destroy radar used to guide the surface-to-air missiles that would be instrumental in Taiwan's defense against potential attacks by Chinese missiles and aircraft .
The United States did not protest when it learned Israel had sold China the drones, which do not incorporate U.S. technology. But U.S. officials did object when they learned of the 2004 deal for new components. Those components had been described as spare parts, but in fact, U.S. officials said, they amounted to a significant upgrade that would broaden the drones' range and improve their ability to home in on enemy radar. The deal, they argued, ignored a 2003 U.S. request to halt all military sales to China.
In the new agreement with Washington reported by the Israeli press and local officials, Israel promised to allow the Pentagon to review future arms sales to prevent such disputes. The terms of the accord are to be finalized this week when an Israeli delegation visits Washington, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
As described in Jerusalem, the agreement also means the Harpy components that China sent to Israel last summer for modification will not be returned. The report in Haaretz said that the Israeli government expects to compensate China for backing out of the deal and keeping the equipment.
Correspondent Scott Wilson in Jerusalem contributed to this report.