Four years ago, the Clinton White House sent two aircraft carriers to confront a belligerent China, which was then lobbing missiles near Taiwan. A weaker Chinese military got the American message, and no US serviceman was lost.
This week, however, the Chinese military will become stronger, even as it holds out the threat of someday taking Taiwan by force - in defiance of US warnings.
Israel plans to hand over to Chinese President Jiang Zemin the first of several airborne warning and control systems, similar to American AWACS.
Such high-tech radar on Chinese warplanes would be very useful in any possible US-Sino conflict over Taiwan's independence.
If Canada or Britain were trying to sell such strategic avionics to China, they would feel intense heat from Washington. They are allies who would help defend the US.
Israel is not such an ally, but it does receive $3 billion a year in US military and other aid. It also expects some $17 billion to help pay for a possible peace deal with Syria.
So far the only big complaint from Washington has been a comment by the US defense secretary that the sale is "counterproductive" because it would alter Asia's strategic balance.
American forces in the region serve as a local sheriff in a tough neighborhood. Many Asian nations count on the US to contain China's military.
But Israel is thumbing its nose at the US on this sale. Why? One reason is that its economy is addicted to military exports, and China is one very large customer.
Israel also claims that such sales help it maintain a large arms industry that will ensure its weapons are more advanced than those of hostile Arab nations.
But the Clinton administration should have long ago stopped this sale. Curbing China's military growth is more important than propping up Israel's ample military.
And Israeli sales of advanced military technology to China only help Beijing in its exports of weapons to dangerous states, putting American forces at risk.
Israel, of all countries, should be empathetic with Taiwan. Both nations are diplomatically lonely states who have been threatened by larger countries and need US support.
It's not easy for US politicians to be tough on Israel in an election year. But unless this sale is stopped, the US government has not done what it could to avoid putting the lives of US soldiers on the line.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society