Israeli air force commander wrapping up AWACS purchase in China

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BEIJING, Feb 17 (AFP) - Israel's air force commander is in Beijing to wrap up the sale of an Israeli advance radar system that will give China's military advance radar capabilities, informed sources told AFP Thursday.

"I would say that it wasn't far-fetched to assume that they are discussing the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) deal," an informed source in Beijing told AFP.

An agreement to purchase at least one system "has already been signed and sealed and is now being implemented," he said.

Eitan Ben-Eliahu met with China's chief of the general staff Fu Quanyou on Wednesday as part of a six-day goodwill visit, Xinhua news agency reported.

China has long been long known to be seeking to buy up to eight Phalcon Airborne Radars made by Israeli Aircraft Indusries.

The radar is reportedly being fitted onto Russian Beriev A-50 planes, in accordance to a 1997 agreement between Russia and Israel to jointly supply China with the advanced radar technology.

The source, who declined to be identified, refused to speculate on when the delivery of the radar and plane would be made.

"I can't tell you if it will be in a day, in a month or two months or a year," he said.

Israeli Embassy officials in Beijing refused to comment on the nature of Ben-Eliahu's visit other than to say it was a "goodwill visit."

"This is another aspect of the enlargement of our bilateral relations which span many areas including cultural, agricultural and science and technology," one official said.

Western military sources in Beijing said the AWAC system when coupled with two newly-purchased Russian Sovremeeny advanced destroyers and China's increasingly modern fleet of Russian-made fighter jets could be useful in aiding China to implement a naval blockade of Taiwan.

But China's military must also prove that it can master the technology of these modern weapons and adequately coordinate joint air and naval operations, they said.

China and Israel only established diplomatic ties in 1992, but military cooperation began secretly at least a decade earlier and is now valued at hundreds of millions dollars.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin is tentatively scheduled to visit Israel between April 12 and 16 as part of a four nation visit that will also take him to Greece, Turkey and South Africa, Israeli officials in Tel Aviv said earlier this month.

The announcement of the trip follows a series of visits by senior Chinese officials late last year, including the powerful parliamentary speaker and former premier Li Peng and Defence Minister Chi Haotian.

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