China warns US over $6.4b arms sale to Taiwan
China angrily summoned the U.S. ambassador on Saturday and warned that a plan to sell $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan would harm already strained ties. One Chinese expert said the sale would give Beijing a “fair and proper reason” to accelerate weapons testing.
The planned sale, posted Friday on a Pentagon Web site, is likely to complicate the cooperation the U.S. seeks from China on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to the loosening of Internet controls, including a Google-China standoff over censorship.
Cutoffs of military ties top the list of possible punishments that Chinese state media and academics have publicly discussed in recent weeks as Beijing repeatedly warned the U.S. against the arms sale.
The U.S. is “obstinately making the wrong decision,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday after Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei warned Ambassador Jon Huntsman that the sale would “cause consequences that both sides are unwilling to see.” The vice minister urged that the sale be immediately canceled, it said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, Susan Stevenson, confirmed that China expressed its views, and said the embassy had no comment.
The notification on the Pentagon Web site said the sale would include 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, mine hunting ships and information technology. U.S. lawmakers have 30 days to comment on the proposed sale. Without objections, it would proceed.
Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations. China claims the self-governing island as its own, while the United States is Taiwan’s most important ally and largest arms supplier.
Though Taiwan’s ties with China have warmed considerably since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office 20 months ago, Beijing has threatened to invade if the island ever formalizes its de facto independence.
The United States, which informed China of the planned sale only hours before the announcement, acknowledged that Beijing may retaliate by temporarily cutting off military talks with Washington, which happened after the former Bush administration announced a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan in 2008.
Both sides have said they want to improve military ties, which have been frosty.
Experts warned that China could take further steps to underscore its newfound power and confidence in world affairs.
“Maybe the People’s Liberation Army will accelerate weapons testing, because this time we have a fair and proper reason to do so,” said Jin Canrong, a professor of international studies at China’s Renmin University.
Beijing has test-fired rockets in recent weeks for an anti-missile defense system in what security experts said was a display of anger at the pending arms sale.
“The U.S. will pay a price for this. Starting now, China will make some substantial retaliation, such as reducing cooperation on the North Korea and Iran nuclear issues and anti-terrorism work,” Jin added.
The arms package, however, dodges a thorny issue: more advanced F-16 fighter jets that Taiwan covets are not included.
The Pentagon’s decision not to include the fighters and a design plan for diesel submarines — two items Taiwan wants most — “shows that the Obama administration is deeply concerned about China’s response,” said Wang Kao-cheng, a defense expert at Taipei’s Tamkang University.
China has more than 1,000 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. The U.S. government is bound by law to ensure the island is able to respond to Chinese threats.
Other possible targets for punishments from China over the planned arms sale include a dialogue on human rights that President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao had agreed to reconvene by late February.
Some Chinese scholars have suggested that China should flex its economic muscle by blacklisting U.S. defense firms involved in the arms package.
“China has more bargaining chips now than before,” said Shuai Hua-ming, a ruling Nationalist Party lawmaker in Taiwan.