Taiwan arms sales, economy shadow Biden’s trip to China

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden will not negotiate U.S. arms sales to Taiwan when he visits China this week, White House officials said Monday, declining to comment on a report that the Obama administration has decided against selling new F-16 jets to Taiwan.

“We don’t negotiate these issues with the Chinese,” said Daniel Russel, White House senior director for Asian affairs, during a conference call with reporters Monday.

“Our policy is based on the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said. The law commits the United States to keep Taiwan supplied with “arms of a defensive character.”

But Mr. Russel and other White House officials declined to deny or directly comment on a report that Pentagon officials recently told their counterparts in Taipei that they would not be allowed to buy 66 new F-16 C/D jets to upgrade their air forces. The report, in Defense News, said Taiwan instead would be allowed to purchase upgrades for its aging fleet of F16 A/B models instead.

This latest proposed arms sale to Taiwan highlights a long-running sore point for the Chinese and, along with U.S. and global economic woes, likely will shadow the vice president’s trip.

Mr. Biden departs Tuesday for five days in China, where he will visit Beijing and Chengdu. Far from the Chinese heartland in the swiftly industrializing west of the vast Asian nation, Chengdu is a center of the Chinese military-industrial complex.

The vice president’s national security adviser, Antony J. Blinken, said during the conference call that the trip agenda will center around meetings “to get to know China’s future leadership,” including the country’s designated next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Biden will be the first U.S. official to spend “substantial time” with Mr. Xi, who starting next year is expected to ease into power in the Communist Party structure behind departing President Hu Jintao.

There also will be meetings with Chinese and foreign business leaders in Beijing and a speech in Chengdu.

The visit, which is expected to be reciprocated when Mr Xi visits the United States later this year, kicks off a U.S. fall diplomatic calendar heavy with Asia-related travel and events, culminating in President Obama’s hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November in Honolulu.

The administration recently reaffirmed that the United States will remain a Pacific power and said U.S. vital interests are increasingly and inextricably bound up with economic growth and strategic stability in Asia.

After China, Mr. Biden will spend a day in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, for a brief program that is to include demonstrations of traditional Mongolian sports, including wrestling, archery and horse racing.

“We are very excited about Mongolia,” Mr. Blinken said, noting that the country is “an important example of a successful transition to a strong democracy.”

From Mongolia, Mr. Biden flies to Japan for two days of talks there and “to demonstrate how much we care about our friends” in the region, as Mr. Russel put it.

In China, the vice president will address “the full range of [Chinese-U.S.] issues,” in a series of meetings with Mr. Xi and other officials, Mr. Blinken said. Among the issues the U.S. side will raise, in addition to human rights, is the artificially low value of China’s currency.

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