Tuesday, January 5, 2010

China flays US arms sale plan

China has urged the United States to scrap a planned multi-billion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan - a move that defense experts said would once again likely scuttle ongoing military exchanges with the US.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday also demanded that Washington avoid arranging a meeting between US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama.

The Washington Post said the meeting, and the arms sale, may take place early in the year, dealing a heavy blow to relations between the two world powers.

"Taiwan and Tibet are of great significance to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are China's core interests," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said during a regular press briefing.

Jiang was responding to a question on whether China-US relations were likely to deteriorate if the US administration went ahead with both plans.

Without directly answering the question, Jiang said: "The US should see clearly the harm (of any such moves) and cancel the arms sale plan to Taiwan so as to avoid disturbing the overall situation." She said the ministry had protested to Washington about the proposed deal.

"The two nations should take a strategic and long-term view on relations," she said.

Under the current circumstances, the US administration was likely to approve the arms deal sooner or later, while Obama was almost certain to meet the Dalai Lama this year, said Shi Yinhong, a senior expert on US studies at Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

"The White House is trying to pick the most appropriate time and place (for both the moves) to minimize the negative impact," he said.

The revised arms sale proposal was announced by Robert Kovac, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for defense trade, on Dec 9.

The package includes design assistance on diesel-electric submarines and 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

In addition, more Patriot Advanced Capability, or PAC-3 missiles, as well as an operations deal for a command and control program were also under discussion, Kovac had said.

The deal is currently pending notification to the US Congress.

Regarding the Dalai Lama, Obama made headlines last year when the White House, in an effort to generate goodwill in China, declined to meet him, marking the first instance in more than a decade when a US president had not met the Dalai Lama during his visits to Washington.

China's possible reaction to a meeting with the Dalai Lama is hard to decipher, Chinese analysts said.

However, Yuan Peng, the head of the Institute of US Studies affiliated to the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the PLA was highly likely to freeze military exchanges with the US in protest.

The past year has seen relations between the two militaries thaw. China froze all military exchanges with the US in October 2008 following a $6.4-billion arms deal announced by the outgoing Bush administration. The deal, however, did not go through.

During Obama's visit last November, the two sides agreed that the Chief of the PLA General Staff Chen Bingde would visit the US and that the US secretary of defense and chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff would visit China this year.

Yuan said bilateral military exchanges have long been victim to arm sales to Taiwan.

Despite the high stakes involved, the US is still pushing the arms sale plan to Taiwan due to fears that its influence over the island is weakening after a marked improvement in cross-Straits relations last year, said Guo Zhenyuan, an expert at the China Institute of International Studies.


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