The Washington Post

Paul Wong
A Chinese military policeman looks out from a guardhouse in front of the U.S. Embassy yesterday in Bejing.<br><br>AP PHOTO

WASHINGTON The Bush administration is considering sending an aircraft carrier or an Aegis radar-equipped warship to the South China Sea to ensure the safety of continued U.S. surveillance flights off the coast of China, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The proposals, which were prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, are among a range of responses the administration is considering in advance of tomorrow”s meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials in Beijing to discuss the April 1 collision of a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane and a Chinese F-8 interceptor over the South China Sea.

Many senior administration members continue to fume about the 11-day standoff over the detained 24-member crew of the Navy plane and over China”s failure to return the plane itself. “There”s a desire to have China pay a price. That will be manifested with some tangible actions here,” an administration official said.

The most likely actions include granting visas to prominent Taiwanese politicians to visit or transit in the United States, limiting military-to-military contacts, cutting off or downgrading other official exchange programs, imposing limits on technology transfers, delaying approval of satellite launches and opposing Beijing”s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

One senior official said the administration was unlikely to seek limits on trade, which would be temporary pending China”s admission to the World Trade Organization, but that “most other things are on the table and under review.”

The Bush administration is also moving closer to a decision on what to include in a package of arms to Taiwan.

China vehemently opposes the arms sale, since it regards the island of 23 million as its own and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland.

The Taiwan arms sale likely will be discussed at a meeting today between Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, that also will take up the issue of how to protect future American surveillance flights off the Chinese coast.

If tomorrow”s meeting in Beijing goes well, officials said, the United States might simply resume the flights without any special escorts. But other options include sending an aircraft carrier with fighter jets that would fly in the general vicinity of the reconnaissance planes or dispatching an Aegis radar-equipped U.S. warship to the region to track Chinese fighter jets that might intercept the U.S. reconnaissance flights.

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