China Foreign Minister Warns Clinton on F-16 Deal

Last week the Obama administration announced its decision to sell $5.85 billion worth of F-16 upgrades to Taiwan, stopping short of selling Taiwan new F-16s. The Chinese Foreign Minister has pressed Ambassador Clinton to reconsider the arms deal to Taiwan. From Reuters:

China’s foreign minister urged the United States on Monday to reconsider its decision to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16 jet fighter fleet, saying it could harm ties between Washington and Beijing, a U.S. official said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi delivered the warning to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a one-hour meeting in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, the senior State Department official said.

“(Yang) was making very serious representations to Secretary Clinton, asked the Obama administration to reconsider its decision and indicated that it would harm the trust and confidence that was established between the two sides,” the official said.

Clinton told Yang that the United States had “strategic interests” in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and was obligated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to supply the self-ruled island sufficient arms for its defense.

As its first indication of frustration, Beijing has decided to scale back on  U.S.-China military exchanges.From Associated Press:

A senior U.S. official says China plans to cancel or postpone some U.S.-China military exchanges after Washington announced last week that it would upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Monday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and urged the U.S. to reconsider the arms sale, warning it would undermine the trust and confidence between the two sides.

Yet the Christian Science Monitor reports that China’s response is relatively “muted”:

Sources familiar with Beijing’s decision say that, so far, the government has postponed only three events: a planned US-Chinese anti-piracy naval exercise, an upcoming trip to Beijing by Adm. Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, and a tour of China by a US marching band.

This is a far cry from the 10 month total break in military relations between China and the US that Beijing decreed in January 2010 to protest a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. Two years earlier, Beijing also cut off military ties for five months in response to another arms sale by the Bush administration. Beijing has not publicly announced its decision.

US officials insist they are obliged by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to supply Taipei with defensive weapons.

“China’s leaders do not want to make this too big an event,” suggests Professor Shi, because they do not want to muddy the waters before Vice President Xi Jinping – tipped to become president next year – visits Washington in early 2012. Nor are they keen to complicate their most important international relationship in the run up to the leadership change, Shi adds.

In a related note, a released U.S. cable from Wikileaks indicates that President Ma Ying-Jeou would open political talks with China if re-elected to a second term. From Boston Globe:

A U.S. cable released by WikiLeaks cites Taiwan’s vice president as telling the top American diplomat on the island that President Ma Ying-jeou would open political talks with China if re-elected to a second term.

Vincent Siew’s June 2009 statement to de facto American ambassador Stephen Young is the clearest indication yet by a senior Ma official that the president would expand on existing economic talks if re-elected in January.

The cable quotes Siew as saying political talks would touch on “a peace treaty, a formal end to hostilities and development of bilateral military confidence mechanisms” with China.


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