Monday, October 06, 2008

China Cancels Military Contacts with USA

China has abruptly canceled a series of military and diplomatic contacts with the United States to protest a planned $6.5 billion package of U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, American officials told The Associated Press on Monday.

Beijing has notified the U.S. that it will not go forward with several senior level visits and other cooperative military-to-military plans, said Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Defense Department spokesman.

"In response to Friday's announcement of Taiwan arms sales, the People's Republic of China canceled or postponed several upcoming military-to-military exchanges," Upton said, lamenting that "China's continued politicization of our military relationship results in missed opportunities."

The Chinese action will not affect the country's participation with the United States in six-nation talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons or its participation in the international effort on Iran's nuclear program, U.S. officials said.

But it does include the cancellation of an upcoming U.S. visit by a senior Chinese general, other similar trips, several port calls by naval vessels and the indefinite postponement of meetings on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the officials said.

"It's an unfortunate step," said deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Beijing is furious with the U.S. decision to sell Taiwan the huge $6.5 billion package of advanced weaponry and military items, including guided missiles and attack helicopters. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, says the sale interferes with internal Chinese affairs and harms its national security.

"The Chinese government and the Chinese people strongly oppose and object to the U.S. government's actions, which harm Chinese interests and Sino-U.S. relations," its foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday, adding that U.S. diplomats had been summoned to hear a strong protest.

China's Ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, was expected to register a similar protest about the arms sale on Monday with the State Department. A Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington said it would be "only natural" for the ambassador to lodge the protest.

Upton said the sale does not represent a change in U.S. policy and that Washington is only upholding the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act under which the U.S. makes available items necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self defense.

Taiwan relies on U.S. weapons to keep pace with China's massive arms buildup across the Taiwan Strait. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are a crucial matter because any dispute between China and Taiwan could ensnare the United States.

Washington is Taiwan's most important ally and largest arms supplier.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced Friday that it had notified the U.S. Congress of plans to sell up to $6.5 billion in advanced weaponry to Taiwan. Under procedures for such foreign military sales, the deal would proceed if no lawmaker voices an objection within 30 days of the notification.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to invade should the self-governing island ever formalize its de facto independence.

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