WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration on Friday informally notified the House and Senate committees that oversee foreign policy that it is prepared to sell modern avionics equipment to China for the Peking government's high-altitude fighter jets.
State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb, confirming a report Friday in The Times, said that U.S. and Chinese officials are discussing the sale of U.S.-made radar, navigation and fire-direction equipment to modernize China's F-8 warplanes.
Negotiations with China are not yet complete, so the exact value of the package has not been determined, Kalb said. He cautioned that it is possible the deal still could fall through.
The Administration's briefings of the House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations committees are classified as secret. If Washington and Peking decide to proceed with the deal, a formal notification will be sent to Capitol Hill later.
Kalb said that the sale would involve "releasable, off-the-shelf equipment" to be modified for Chinese use by U.S. defense contractors under U.S. Air Force supervision.
"Because the negotiations are not yet complete, I can't talk about it in sales terms," Kalb said. "It could emerge as the largest such sale to the Chinese." China was declared eligible to purchase U.S. weapons in June, 1984.
Sources in Peking told The Times that the deal could be worth from $200 million to $1 billion.
A House Foreign Affairs Committee staff member said the main issue on Capitol Hill probably will be whether the sale will jeopardize the security of Taiwan, South Korea or other Asian nations.
But, he noted, the Administration usually takes such matters into consideration before proposing any sort of arms sale in Asia.
The avionics package would be the second U.S. arms sale to China. The Administration officially notified Congress last September of a $98-million sale of equipment needed to produce artillery ammunition. That proposal was approved without controversy.