US tries to tamp down tension

By Li Xiaokun and Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-03 06:45
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Beijing makes it clear that it will have an appropriate response

US tries to tamp down tension

Still smarting at Washington's $6.4 billion arms sale to Taipei four days after the announcement, Beijing reaffirmed yesterday that there will be measured retaliation even as senior US officials tried to douse the flames.

"The US insisted on selling arms to Taiwan regardless of Beijing's resolute opposition that will, inevitably, severely damage China's cooperation with the US on relevant key international and regional issues," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.

"China will sanction companies involved in the arms sales," Ma said at a press briefing when asked whether the threat of sanctions was just empty talk. "We'll urge US companies involved to stop pushing for, and participating, in arms sales to Taiwan."

Ma did not specify the issues on which cooperation could be affected or which companies involved in the deal face sanctions. Boeing, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are the companies which are selling arms or equipment to Taiwan.

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However, he implied that the postponement of a bilateral human rights dialogue, originally scheduled for the end of the month, is a fallout of the arms sale.

Some US officials, apparently taken aback at China's strong response, are trying to downplay the row.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hoped Beijing's decision to curtail bilateral military contacts would be temporary, and that he still planned to visit China later this year.

"Stability is enhanced by contact between our militaries and a greater understanding of each other's strategies, so I hope that if there is a downturn, that it will be a temporary one and that we can get back to strengthening this relationship," Gates said.

US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said in Beijing yesterday that he joined Gates in hoping that it is a short downturn.

"I hope disagreement here and the postponement of military-military exchanges is only temporary, because the best we can do is to continue building trust and confidence," said the ambassador.

Stressing the two countries have their own and different core interests, Huntsman told China Daily that "the only way to make progress in this relationship is by a full debate of what the core interests are, why we have core interests, and how realistically we can proceed in respecting these core interests".

"We will move forward with all confidence and trust we need to get the important work of the region done," said Huntsman.

In its toughest response in three decades to US arms sales to Taiwan after the Obama administration notified Congress on Friday of its proposed deal, Beijing announced over the weekend that it would curtail military and security exchanges with Washington and warned of severe harm to bilateral ties and cooperation on international and regional issues.

It also threatened sanctions against US companies involved, a rare action by a developing country against a developed economy.

The US describes arms sales to Taiwan as a "long-standing commitment to provide for Taiwan's defensive needs".

But Gong Li, deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies at the Central Party School, said Washington was missing a key point.

"The US claims that it must fulfill its promise of protecting Taiwan; however, it should also remember its declaration in the joint communique (signed in 1982) that it would reduce arms sales until they are totally stopped.

"With good prospects for cross-Straits relations, there is no need to sell Taiwan those weapons at all. Under the circumstances, the US action is improper."

Gong said he did not expect the US to alter its arms sales list but was sure Washington "will receive a clear signal from Beijing this time that it has to pay for what it did".

"It is a reminder to them that the old rules do not apply in today's game any more."

Li Cheng, director of research at the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings Institution, was quoted by the Voice of America as saying that the threat of sanctions will have some impact on US companies involved.

Li said that the impact is not significant enough to make those companies drop the deals. But they will know that, by doing so, they have to pay a price, he added.

Ai Yang contributed to the story