China: Taiwan arms sale will affect U.S. exchanges

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BEIJING — China's military exchanges with the U.S. will be disrupted by a Washington announcement of a $5.85 billion arms package for Taiwan, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday, confirming expectations that Beijing would retaliate over the sale.

High-level exchanges, joint drills and other large-scale activities will be affected “in light of the serious damage” resulting from the sale, ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a news conference open to Chinese reporters only.

It follows a months-long suspension of military contacts last year after the announcement of another arms deal for Taiwan.

China views such exchanges as a political bargaining chip, frustrating U.S. officials who say they are important in building confidence and avoiding confrontations as China's military modernizes.

It wasn’t clear whether additional retaliation would be taken.

Chinese Vice President and future leader Xi Jinping is expected to make an important visit to Washington in coming months but no specific dates have been announced.

There also have been calls in the media and the military for commercial reprisals against companies involved in the arms package, but China’s own fledgling commercial aerospace and other high-tech industries rely heavily on American technical expertise.

Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said U.S. military ties with Taiwan risked “undermining overall interests of bilateral relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

“We hope the U.S. government responds to China’s requests … [to] stop selling arms to Taiwan and cease military links with Taiwan,” Mr. Hong said at a daily news briefing.

China regards self-governing Taiwan, which is 100 miles off the coast of the mainland, as part of its territory. The U.S. is obligated under legislation passed by Congress in 1979 to provide the island with weapons for its self-defense.

The U.S. sparked Chinese anger by agreeing to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of 145 F-16s that the U.S. sold it in the 1990s, although it deferred a request to sell the island nation a more advanced version of the plane.

U.S. officials said Chinese diplomats had earlier told them China would respond by canceling or postponing some U.S.-China military exchanges.

U.S. officials declined to say Wednesday what specific programs China had canceled, revealing only that Beijing had filed a protest. The Pentagon referred questions to China on any details and played down the latest flap.

“We recognize that the relationship will continue to encounter ups and downs, but overall we have seen an incremental improvement” in military-to-military relations between Beijing and Washington, Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

She pointed out China’s agreement early this year that better communications were needed to reduce misunderstandings and foster greater understanding.

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