China summoned the U.S. ambassador on Saturday and warned that a plan to sell $6.4 billions 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 on 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 programme 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 on 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 minister urged that the sale be immediately cancelled, 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.
Ma told reporters on Saturday that the deal should not anger the mainland because the weapons are defensive, not offensive.
“The weapons sale decision will ... allow us to have more confidence and sense of security in developing cross-Strait relations,” he said.
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 defence 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,” Mr. 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 defence expert at Taipei’s Tamkang University.