Beijing furious at arms sale

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-01 06:42
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US' $6.4b deal with Taiwan puts at risk cooperation with Washington

In its toughest response in three decades to US arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing announced over the weekend that it would curtail military exchanges with Washington, and sanction US companies involved, and warned of severe harm to bilateral ties.

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Though overall relations between the two world powers are unlikely to collapse over the single issue, Chinese experts said, their cooperation on key international matters such as those related to Iran, Afghanistan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) could be severely impacted.

The Obama administration notified Congress on Friday of its proposed arms deal to Taiwan, a $6.4 billion package.

The sale includes 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot "Advanced Capability-3" anti-missile systems, and command-and-control enhancement. The US also will supply 12 advanced Harpoon missiles, plus two mine-hunting ships.

The package, however, did not include F-16 fighter jets, a deal many believe could have seriously roiled US-China relations.

The deal, which the Pentagon said would "serve US national, economic and security interests", is pending approval of the US Congress.

Beijing responded furiously with a raft of reprisals.

The Ministry of National Defense announced Saturday that it would suspend military contacts with Washington and vowed to "closely follow the situation and make an appropriate response".

The Foreign Ministry said it would impose sanctions on US firms involved in the deal, despite Beijing's long-standing reluctance to use official sanctions in international disputes.

It did not specify which companies could potentially be affected.

It also warned of "severe harm" to bilateral relations and declared the cancellation of a vice-ministerial level consultation with Washington on security, arms control and nuclear nonproliferation scheduled soon.

"Cooperation between China and the US on key international and regional issues will also inevitably be affected," the ministry said in an official protest to the US.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei also protested the deal.

"This is the strongest reaction we've seen in recent years," Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, told AP.

The conflict comes amid rising tensions between the two on issues ranging from cyber attacks and Internet control to trade disputes and US President Barack Obama's expected meeting with the Dalai Lama.

"Certainly, the US has to pay a heavy price for the deal," said Ye Hailin, a professor in international relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "We have more than one card. On problems related to Afghanistan, the DPRK and Iran, Washington needs our cooperation."

The deal coincides with a sensitive point in American diplomacy with China over Iran. On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked China to reconsider its opposition to new sanctions on Iran.

Media have also speculated over risks the deal will pose to China-US cooperation in other areas such as climate change, trade and China's purchases of US treasury bonds.

Yuan Peng, deputy head for US research at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the deal has angered Chinese people and reduced Beijing's motivation to cooperate with Washington, "the impact of which is hard to evaluate".

Reuters said yesterday other bilateral talks are also likely to be curtailed or downgraded. Those could include a dialogue on human rights that Obama and President Hu Jintao agreed to during their summit in November.

It is hard to predict whether Hu will attend a nuclear summit proposed by Obama for April, Yuan said.

"However, it does not mean we will suspend all cooperation related to regional or global issues, since the majority of them involve many other countries," he added.