Beijing will suspend military exchanges with Washington in protest of an approved 6.4 billion-dollar arms deal with Taiwan, calling the sale an obstacle to regional peace, according to state media.
REUTERS - China moved swiftly on Saturday to suspend military exchanges with the United States after Washington’s announcement of arms sales to Taiwan, widening rifts in their far-reaching relationship.
The Defence Ministry, in a strongly-worded statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency, condemned the proposed U.S. sale of weapons to self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which China considers an illegitimate breakaway province.
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“Considering the severe harm and odious effect of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the Chinese side has decided to suspend planned mutual military visits,” Xinhua quoted the ministry as saying.
Qian Lihua, director of China’s Defence Ministry Foreign Affairs Office, also summoned the U.S. defence attache to lodge a “solemn protest” about the sales, Xinhua added.
The Obama administration told the U.S. Congress on Friday of the proposed sales to Taiwan, a potential $6.4 billion package including Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot “Advanced Capability-3” anti-missile missiles, and two refurbished Osprey-class mine-hunting ships.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, that the arms deal could jeopardise bonds with Washington, which has looked to China for help in surmounting the financial crisis, dealing with Iran and North Korea, and fighting climate change.
The U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have joined trade imbalances, currency disputes, human rights, the Internet, and Tibet among rifts dividing the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies.
Washington and Beijing have also recently traded angry words about Internet policy after the search engine giant Google Inc earlier this month threatened to shut its Chinese google.cn portal and pull out of China, citing censorship problems and hacking attacks.
In coming months Obama may meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader China calls a dangerous separatist, adding to Beijing’s ire with Washington.
Vice Minister He hinted the anger would be felt in a number of areas.
“The United States’ announcement of the planned weapons sales to Taiwan will have a seriously negative impact on many important areas of exchanges and cooperation between the two countries,” said He in the remarks, published on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
He said the arms sales were “crude interference in China’s domestic affairs and seriously harm China’s national security”, words notably tougher than Beijing’s recent statements on the issue.
“This will lead to repercussions that neither side wishes to see,” said He. He urged the U.S. to halt the planned sales.
Apart from curtailing military ties with the United States, China’s other options are less clear. Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to visit the United States later this year, which could prevent the situation getting out of hand.
The biggest holder of U.S treasury debt, Beijing has shown no signs it would use that leverage in retaliation, which could damage the value of its own vast dollar holdings.
“Let’s watch and see what they do, not what they say, because sometimes tough words in China are a substitute for tough action,” said Susan Shirk, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and formerly a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China and Taiwan.
China could withhold potential cooperation on pressuring Iran over its nuclear activities, said Shirk.
China curbed contacts with U.S. defence officials in 2008 after the then U.S. President George W. Bush flagged the arms package for Taiwan.
Earlier this month, China tested emerging military technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air after Washington cleared a previously announced sale of Patriot missiles to Taiwan.
“I think the price the United States pays will be heavier than the U.S. may have anticipated,” Liu Jiangyong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University who has advised leaders of foreign policy said.
“Its sales of arms to Taiwan gives us greater confidence in pushing for an amicable outcome in our relations with China, and will help promote peace in the Taiwan Strait.”
Under President Ma Ying-jeou, since 2008 Taiwan has sought to ease tensions with the mainland and expand economic ties. But Taiwan also worries China could develop an overwhelming military advantage.
Jin Canrong, a Chinese international relations expert at Renmin University, said China should stage some kind of military show of force to express its anger.
“We should try out our weapons,” Jin said. “There’s plenty of reason for it, as our core interests have been threatened.”
Taiwan has been ruled separately since 1949, when Nationalist forces fled to the island, escaping victorious Communist forces. Since then, Beijing has demanded Taiwan accept unification, threatening it could resort to force.
Washington, under a 1979 act of Congress, is legally obliged to help Taiwan defend itself.
Taiwan says China aims 1,000 to 1,500 short-range and mid-range missiles at the island, 160 kilometres (miles) from China at its nearest point.
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