U.S. sells weapons to Taiwan, angering China

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 30, 2010; 3:46 PM

The Obama administration announced the sale Friday of $6 billion worth of Patriot anti-missile systems, helicopters, mine-sweeping ships and communications equipment to Taiwan in a long-expected move that sparked an angry protest from China.

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday, China's Defense Ministry suspended military exchanges with the United States and summoned the U.S. defense attache to lodge a "solemn protest" over the sale, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"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. The Foreign Ministry said China also would put sanctions on U.S. companies supplying the equipment.

China's vice minister of foreign affairs, He Yafei, said Friday that Beijing was "strongly indignant" about the arms sales to Taiwan and warned that they would have a "serious negative impact" on U.S.-China cooperation. China also could cancel a visit by President Hu Jintao to Washington in April and sanction businesses in the districts of congressional lawmakers known to be backers of Taiwan.

The weapons deal was formally announced by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and constitutes the second part of a package that was announced at the end of the Bush administration. The sale comes at a time of heightened tensions between the countries, despite an intense effort by the Obama administration to improve ties with Beijing. The two are at odds over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program; they are bickering over issues involving Internet freedom and how Beijing is treating Western businesses; and soon they could clash again over Tibet.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on China to adopt a tougher stance against Tehran and took the unusual move of publicly warning Beijing of significant trouble if Iran's nuclear ambitions were not reined in. China has opposed slapping additional sanctions on Tehran.

"China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their oil supplies," Clinton said at the end of a speech at Ecole Militaire, France's college for senior officers in Paris. Iran is China's No. 3 supplier of oil, and Chinese energy companies have committed to investing more than $80 billion in Iran's oil and gas sector.

U.S. and Chinese officials have also clashed recently over trade and investment issues, which for years constituted the bright side of their relationship. On Thursday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said U.S. companies face too many "headaches" in China and could lose interest if Beijing backslides on openness and the rule of law.

Locke referred to a threat by Google to end its operations in China over Internet censorship. Google has also alleged that hackers from China broke into e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

More problems could arise after a possible meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama, when the Tibetan spiritual leader visits the United States in February. China says the Dalai Lama is a separatist who wants to lead Tibet to independence.

Of all the issues, though, arms sales to Taiwan is the most sensitive to the Chinese. China views Taiwan as part of its territory and contends that U.S. arms sales to the island are, as the vice foreign minister said Friday, "a gross intervention into China's internal affairs."

The United States says weapons sales to Taiwan help to maintain stability in East Asia by making it more difficult for Beijing to bully Taiwan. The United States is legally obligated to provide weapons for Taiwan's defense, under the Taiwan Relations Act.

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