JERUSALEM – A senior Chinese official criticized the United States for pressuring Israel to confiscate Chinese-owned drone aircraft, calling the American action “groundless and unreasonable.”
The comments Wednesday by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, China’s senior foreign policy official, were the strongest indication to date of Chinese displeasure over American efforts to prevent China from regaining possession of Harpy unmanned drone aircraft.
The Israeli-manufactured drones were sold to China in the early 1990s and returned to Israel earlier this year for technological upgrading. The deal is reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars. The drones are designed to destroy radar stations and antiaircraft batteries.
Last week, an Israeli military official said the United States has demanded Israel confiscate the drones, fearing that they could upset the military balance between China and Taiwan.
Appearing with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom at a news conference, Tang said he could not understand the U.S. action.
“We have cooperation with Israel in many fields, none of which violates the interests of any third party,” he said. “Any interference and intervention for any other country in the world is groundless and unreasonable.”
The U.S. demand on the drones puts Israel in the difficult position of having either to defy its main ally, or violating a commercial trust with China, a market with considerable growth potential for Israeli high-tech and military exports.
The United States, which fears the Harpy technology could be used to threaten Taiwan and endanger U.S. forces in case of war with China, torpedoed a $2 billion Israeli-Chinese deal in 2000.
Although China blamed the United States for interfering in the sale of Phalcon reconnaissance planes, Israel said the botched deal caused lingering ill will between the countries that was resolved only after Israel paid China reparations.
Last week a Pentagon spokesman said the drone issue was under discussion between American and Israeli officials.
“The United States has long-standing concerns about the sale and/or transfer of defense equipment and technology to China,” the official said. “We continue to raise these concerns with allies, friends, and partners and look for them to take a responsible approach to arms sales to China.”