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Tags: China | US | Taiwan | arms | row

China, U.S. in Row Over Taiwan Arms Deal

Sunday, 31 January 2010 07:35 PM EST

BEIJING - China and the United States were locked Sunday in an escalating row over US arms sales to Taiwan, with Washington rebuffing Chinese protests and insisting the deal promotes stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The Pentagon Friday sparked the latest challenge to China-US relations under President Barack Obama when it approved the 6.4-billion-dollar sale of Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, mine-hunting ships and other weaponry.

China responded furiously with a raft of reprisals, saying it would suspend military and security contacts with Washington and impose sanctions on US firms involved in the deal.

Beijing warned of "severe harm" to relations.

The Pentagon expressed "regret" over the bitter response, which reflected a rapid souring of relations with the United States amid strains over trade, climate change and China's Internet controls.

US State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler told AFP the sale "contributes to maintaining security and stability across the Taiwan Strait", a view echoed by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

"It will let Taiwan feel more confident and secure so we can have more interactions with China," Ma, who has overseen a historic warming in relations with China, was quoted as saying by Taiwan's Central News Agency.

But China's Taiwan Affairs Office, which handles relations with the island, rejected that view as "totally untenable."

"The planned US arms sale sends the wrong signal to Taiwan and will only encourage the arrogance of Taiwan independence forces and hinder the peaceful development of cross-strait ties," an anonymous official with the office was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

In an official diplomatic protest, China said the row would endanger cooperation with the United States on "key international and regional issues."

It did not elaborate, but the comment comes as Washington seeks Beijing's help curbing the nuclear programmes of Iran and China's ally North Korea.

The United States is calling for tougher action, including possibly more sanctions, on Iran. China imports significant quantities of Iranian oil and has sizeable investments there.

Jing-dong Yuan, a non-proliferation expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, said the dispute means Washington "should forget about" Chinese support for more sanctions against Tehran.

"Even before the arms sale, China was reluctant to agree to additional sanctions because of its significant economic stakes in that country," he said.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said she expected Beijing to stay engaged on Iran but there was a risk China could overplay its hand.

"There is a sense in China that their leverage over the United States and their position in the world is growing, and in that sense there might be a little bit of overreaching," she said.

Taiwan split from the mainland at the end of China's civil war in 1949, but Beijing views the island of 23 million as part of its territory that must be reabsorbed. It has hundreds of missiles targeted against the island.

China's state-run media was mostly mum on the rift Sunday but Xinhua said in a commentary the world needs "healthy, stable and developing China-US ties," saying the two countries have many "common interests."

Analysts noted the reaction could have been even sharper had the arms package included the new fighter jets that Taiwan seeks -- it included communications equipment for Taiwan's F-16 fleet, but no new planes.

But Jason Yuan, Taiwan's de facto ambassador to Washington, said the United States could still potentially add F-16s.

China temporarily cut off military contact with Washington when the arms deal was first proposed under the George W. Bush administration in 2008.

But it has gone further this time, reflecting its growing clout with its economy set to overtake Japan's and its military budget surging.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton declined to be drawn on the row.

Ashton told Sky News television she was "not getting involved in what the United States chooses to do with Taiwan or not" and "not getting involved in discussions about supporting what China says or does not say."

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, 31 January 2010 07:35 PM
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