Deliveries of Russian-built weapons to China and the concurrent decision by the USA not to supply Taiwan with missiles and air-defence radar is shifting the balance of power in the politically unstable Taiwan Strait.

China has taken delivery of an initial batch of 24 Raduga 3M-80 Moskit (SS-N-22 Sunburn) supersonic anti-ship missiles which will arm Chinese navy Sovremenny-class destroyers. A second batch is to arrive in China by the end of this year. The missile is available in two versions, the 90km (56 miles)-range 3M80 and the 120km-range 3M80E, although it is not clear which version China has received.

Taiwan's navy is reliant on the General Dynamics Phalanx close-in weapons system for ship defence, which is insufficient to defeat Moskit-type threats.

This prompted Taipei to request the sale of four air-defence destroyers equipped with the Lockheed Martin Aegis radar and control system and Taiwan's choice of associated surface-to-air missile (SAM) system to defend against the new Chinese capability.

The Clinton administration's recent decision to delay approval of the sale of Aegis-equipped warships postpones the deal until after a new US President takes office early next year. This would delay the deployment of an effective anti-air warship until at least 2006 .

Washington has also refused a Taiwanese request for Raytheon AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles to combat China's construction of its first Almaz S-300PMU (SA10C/D Grumble) SAM site near Longtien on the Taiwan Strait. US and Taiwanese sources say China is building two more S-300PMU bases south of Longtien. Taiwan is concerned that its inability to attack the sites from stand-off ranges will endanger its aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Chinese air force is expected to take delivery of its first anti-radiation missiles as part of the weapons package to be supplied with Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK fighters.

Source: Flight International