China has expressed its intention to suspend some military exchanges with the US, a first concrete signal of the fallout from Washington’s decision last week to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16 fleet.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Monday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. During the meeting, Yang repeated China’s opposition to the US arms upgrade package and pressed the US to reconsider, warning that the decision could damage relations between the US and China.
A senior US State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, 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 added that the Chinese had warned in other conversations of possible harm to Sino-US military ties. "They indicated they are going to suspend, or cancel or postpone a series of... military-to-military engagements," the official said. Signs of China’s intentions surfaced right after Washington first announced the deal last Wednesday. China immediately called upon US ambassador Gary Locke and warned that the decision would "inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and co-operation in military and security areas."
Clinton told Yang in response that the US had "strategic interests" in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and was bound by the Taiwan Relations Act to provide the island with arms to enable it to defend itself. "(Clinton) underscored her view that in fact it was the confidence, the strong support of the United States, that had provided Taiwan with the confidence to reach out in diplomacy with Beijing over the course of the last several years," the US official said. "She indicated that she would like to see that series of interactions and trust and confidence across the Taiwan Straits increase and grow in the time ahead."
In 2010, military exchanges were suspended for most of the year after the Obama administration announced a long-delayed arms package for Taiwan in January last year.
Analysts have speculated that the current deal would not be as damaging as the earlier arms package in 2010. Both the US and China have pursued smoother relations ahead of 2012 when President Barack Obama handles coming elections and the Chinese Communist Party goes through a change in leadership.
With US and Chinese military chiefs and defence ministers having exchanged visits over the past year, less high-level dialogue is at risk compared to last year. The US official emphasised that not all military exchanges would be affected, and that some postponements or cancellations would "come over time."
Yang and Clinton also discussed North Korea, the South China Sea issue, Pakistan, and global economic concerns, with both sides agreeing they had a responsibility "to take the necessary steps to spur global growth," according to the US official.
Report: China to suspend some US military ties (Financial Times, 27 Sep 2011)
Report: Clinton pressed by China on Taiwan deal (AFP, 27 Sep 2011)
Report: China foreign minister warns Clinton on F-16 deal (Reuters, 26 Sep 2011)