China denounces U.S. arms deal for Taiwan

September 22, 2011

— China on Thursday angrily demanded the Obama administration cancel its plans to upgrade Taiwan’s aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets, warning that the decision will harm U.S.-China ties overall and military cooperation between the two countries.

A statement Thursday on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website, and an article on the website of Xinhua, the official news agency here, said China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke to lodge a “strong protest.” Xinhua said China’s ambassador in Washington, Zhang Yesui, also lodged a protest.

“The wrongdoing by the U.S. side will inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas,” Zhang Zhijun reportedly told Locke, according to the Xinhua report.

“China strongly urges the United States to be fully aware of the high sensitivity and serious harm of the issue, seriously treat the solemn stance of China, honor its commitment and immediately cancel the wrong decision,” the vice foreign minister told Locke, according to the report.

“The new round of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, no matter in what excuses and reasons, cannot hide the intention of interfering in China's internal affairs and will send very wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces, and will severely disturb the momentum of peaceful development in cross-Strait relations,” the vice foreign minister said.

China’s official reaction came the day after the Obama administration formally notified Congress on Wednesday of a plan, worth $5.8 billion, to upgrade Taiwan’s 145 F-16 A/B fighter jets, rejecting, for now, the island’s request to purchase 66 more sophisticated F-16 C/Ds.

Last year, when the U.S. approved a separate arms package for Taiwan worth $6.4 billion, Beijing reacted by temporarily suspending military exchanges with Washington. Those military ties were only fully restored in January, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to China and met his counterpart Liang Guanglie, ahead of an official visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

At the time, Gates and Liang told reporters that military ties between the U.S. and China should not be affected by politics.

From Thursday’s tough language, it was unclear whether military ties once again would be affected by the U.S. agreeing to sell — or in this case, upgrade — weapons for Taiwan’s defense.

China did not immediately announce any retaliatory measures, other than Vice Foreign Minister Zhang’s warning that “exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas” would be harmed.

Some experts believed that this time, relations should not suffer as a result of the arms deal, despite Beijing’s official protests.

“The arms sale will affect the bilateral relationship a little bit because China feels that they are not respected enough by the U.S.,” said Chu Shulong, a professor at the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University. “But it will have a minor influence, and won’t have impact on the military ties, like last time. There won’t be any direct effect on the Sino-U.S. relationship because of the arms sale this time.”

The first reason, Chu said, was because the size of the arms package was carefully calibrated, and did not include the new fighters. “This is the best decision the Obama administration can make for the U.S. to balance the interests of all sides — Taiwan, the mainland and the domestic politics — although none of the sides will be fully satisfied,” he said.

Second, Chu said, China had a chance to learn of the decision beforehand, perhaps during Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s visit in August. “So China feels they are more respected than in the past,” Chu said.

Washington Post researcher Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.

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