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U.S.-China Ties Weather Taiwan Arms Deal

Benjamin Seel

Although news of a $5.9 billion U.S. arms agreement to Taiwan initially caused China to warn that the deal could derail U.S.-Chinese relations, the relationship appears to be stable.

Speaking in Indonesia on Oct. 23, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta commended the Chinese for handling news of the arms deal “in a professional and diplomatic way.”

Panetta noted that he had “heard nothing that indicates that [China is] taking any steps in reaction” to the deal.

China’s immediate response to the news of the deal was a statement by Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun to U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke on Sept. 21, warning that sales to Taiwan would “inevitably cause damage to Sino-U.S. relations,” according to a ministry press release.

Initially, China threatened to respond by cutting off military ties and canceling diplomatic meetings.

At an Oct. 11 meeting between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, Cui said he wanted to discuss the two countries’ differences to “prevent them from excessively interfering in the normal development of China-U.S. relations,” according to The Washington Times.

The sale includes a package to retrofit 145 F-16 A/B fighter jets with new radar, weapons systems, and structural upgrades; an extension of a training program; and parts for three types of aircrafts.

New F-16 C/D planes, requested by Taiwan since 2006, are not included. However, a senior administration official speaking during a Sept. 21 conference call with reporters said the sale of new planes “is still under consideration.”

In a press release the same day, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said that not selling new F-16s was a “capitulation” to China and a “failure by the Administration to live up to its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.”

The Obama administration has sold more than $12 billion in arms to Taiwan in the last two years. Taiwan’s current fleet of F-16 A/Bs was purchased in 1992.

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