The Pentagon will send a team to Taiwan, perhaps as early as next month, to present submarine construction proposals under an arms sale package unveiled last year. The announcement follows fresh charges by China of U.S. meddling in its internal affairs in connection with a top defense official's remarks about support for Taiwan.
A Pentagon spokesman says a team of Navy and other Defense Department officials will travel to Taiwan soon to outline several proposals for the design and construction of diesel-electric submarines.
President Bush last year pledged the United States would help Taiwan acquire the submarines as part of an arms sales package intended to bolster the island's defense.
Pentagon officials say a number of what they describe as viable proposals have been received from industry. Defense officials are currently reviewing the proposals and these will be presented formally to Taiwan, perhaps as soon as next month.
No details are available on the options. But defense officials have previously indicated the submarines could prove costly for Taiwan. Initial hopes by U.S. officials that they could acquire European-manufactured diesel-electric submarines for Taiwan ran into diplomatic difficulties. The United States no longer manufactures diesel-electric submarines of its own.
The disclosure that a Pentagon team will soon travel to Taiwan follows China's angry denunciation of a top Pentagon official for alleged interference in China's internal affairs.
The complaint by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman was in response to remarks by Deputy U.S.Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at a closed-door U.S.-Taiwan Business Council meeting on defense issues last month. The meeting in Florida was attended by Taiwan's Defense Minister.
In his speech, the text of which has just been released, Mr. Wolfowitz reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Taiwan's defenses and voiced concern about China's military buildup of forces, including tactical ballistic missiles, across the Taiwan Strait.
The Pentagon official also indicated U.S. interest in increasing training opportunities for Taiwanese military officials.
Defense officials deny Mr. Wolfowitz announced any changes in long-standing U.S. policy towards Taiwan.
However they confirm the Pentagon has now lifted previous restrictions on attendance by Taiwanese military and civilian defense officials at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
The Center was created in 1995 to further relations between the U.S. military's Pacific Command and the armed forces of nations in the Asia-Pacific region. The Pentagon says some 3,000 leaders from 56 nations have participating in the Center's various courses, conferences and other activities.
But until now, Taiwan has been barred from attendance in the Center's main leadership courses.