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China to Suspend Some US Military Ties

Kathrin Hille in Beijing
Getty Images

China intends to suspend some military exchanges with the U.S., in the first concrete sign of the fallout from Washington’s decision to provide a $5.9 billion arms package to Taiwan.

“I think they have indicated that they’re going to suspend or to cancel or postpone a series of […] military-to-military engagements,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters on Monday, according to a briefing transcript on the state department website.

Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, met with Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Monday. Mr Yang used the meeting to reiterate China’s strong opposition to the Obama administration’s decision to sell Taiwan spare parts, training and weapons to upgrade its aging fleet of F16 fighter aircraft.

The state department official said Mr Yang had made: “very serious representations to secretary Clinton, asked the Obama administration to reconsider this decision and indicated that it would harm the trust and confidence that was established between the two sides.”

When Washington announced the Taiwan arms deal last Wednesday, China immediately called in Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador in Beijing, and warned the decision would “inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and co-operation in military and security areas.”

Although the People’s Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan, it claims the democratic island as its territory and insists it must unify with the mainland eventually, with military force if necessary. The U.S. is required by domestic law to help Taipei defend itself. It has also said in a joint communiqué with Beijing that it would reduce arms sales to Taiwan over time. The two contradictory commitments frequently put Washington under pressure, and regularly result in disruption of its ties with China.

Military dialogue was suspended for most of 2010 after Washington announced another long-delayed arms package for Taiwan in January last year.

Washington had hoped to avoid such fallout this time. With both sides’ chiefs of general staff and defense ministers having exchanged visits over the past year, less high-level dialogue is at stake than in 2010. But the latest comment from the state department appears to confirm that Beijing will still sacrifice some military exchanges. The state department official stressed that not all military dialogue would be affected. Some postponements or cancellations would “come over time”, he said.