By Foster Klug
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is planning to sell $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan, a move that will infuriate China and test whether President Barack Obama’s efforts to improve trust with Beijing will carry the countries through a tense time.
The notification to Congress, posted Friday, Jan. 30, on a Pentagon website, includes Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, mine hunter ships, and information technology. Congress has 30 days to comment before the plan goes forward. Senior lawmakers traditionally have supported such sales.
Taiwan is the most sensitive matter in U.S.–China relations, with the potential to plunge into conflict as the two powers are increasingly linked in security and economic issues. China claims the self-governing island as its own. The United States is Taiwan’s most important ally and its largest arms supplier.
The United States, which told China of the sale only hours before the announcement, acknowledged that Beijing may retaliate by cutting off military talks with Washington, which happened after the Bush administration announced a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan in 2008.
The United States is “obstinately making the wrong decision,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement 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 vice minister urged that the sale be immediately canceled.
Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said Beijing will lodge a formal protest against the U.S. decision. Asked if China would halt military talks, he said, “Let’s wait and see.”
“We strongly request that the U.S. side correct the wrong action, so as to avoid further damaging Chinese–U.S. relations,” Wang said. “The Taiwan question and the arms sale issue bear on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, so this is a very serious problem.” 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 Jan. 31 that the deal should not anger the mainland because the weapons are defensive, not offensive.
Despite its size, the U.S. weapons package dodges a touchy issue: F-16 fighter jets that Taiwan covets are not included. Senior U.S. officials said they are aware of Taiwan’s desire for F-16s and are assessing Taiwan’s needs.
The sale satisfies parts of an $11 billion arms package originally pledged to Taiwan by former President George W. Bush in 2001. That package has been provided in stages because of political and budgetary considerations in Taiwan and the United States.
U.S. officials say the Obama administration’s China policy is meant to improve trust between the countries, so that disagreements over Taiwan or Tibet do not reverse efforts to cooperate on nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, and attempts to deal with economic and climate change issues.
China aims more than 1,000 ballistic missiles at Taiwan. The U.S. government is bound by law to ensure the island is able to respond to Chinese threats.
Obama’s national security adviser, Jim Jones, said Friday that both Washington and Beijing do things “periodically that may not make everybody completely happy.”
But Jones told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank that the United States is “bent toward a new relationship with China as a rising power in the world.” (end)
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Desmond Butler, and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.