China May Skip Arms Talks Over Taiwan Jet Deal
In an angry protest against the Bush Administration’s decision to sell up to 150 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, China threatened Thursday to withdraw from international arms control talks and cut cooperation with Washington at the United Nations.
Vice Foreign Minister Liu Huaqiu lodged a “strongest protest” with U.S. Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, the official New China News Agency reported. The sale, which reverses 10 years of U.S. weapons policy toward Taiwan, is valued at up to $6 billion.
“This will lead to a major retrogression in Sino-U.S. relations and will inevitably cause a negative impact on Sino-U.S. cooperation in the United Nations and other international organizations,” Liu said, according to the news agency.
“The Chinese government solemnly demands that the United States revoke its erroneous decision to sell F-16 fighters to Taiwan. Pending a reversal of this decision by the U.S. side, China would find it difficult to stay in the meeting of the five (permanent members of the U.N. Security Council) on arms control issues.”
The United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, which are all major international arms suppliers, began talks after the Persian Gulf War on cutting the flow of weapons to unstable regions, particularly the Middle East. “Excellent progress had been made” in these talks, according to a Western diplomat here, who spoke on condition of anonymity. A preliminary consensus reached in these talks may now be jeopardized, he said.
The issue of Taiwan is a serious one in China’s domestic politics and one about which the top leadership appears to be united in a fairly hard-line stance that demands eventual reunification of Taiwan with China.
The Nationalist government of Taiwan fled there in 1949 after losing to Communist forces in a civil war on the mainland. Since then, both Beijing and Taipei have claimed to be the legitimate government of all China.
In a 1982 Sino-U.S. communique, Washington promised to gradually reduce its arms sales to Taiwan. A senior U.S. official argued that Bush’s decision does not violate the communique because the Chinese were warned in 1982 that the United States reserved the right to sell spare parts for jets Taiwan already possessed. Ten years later, the official said, the Administration finds itself unable to obtain spare parts for the aging F-5s and F-104s that Taiwan’s air force flies, hence the need to supply the modern F-16s instead.
Another Administration official, State Department spokesman Joseph Snyder, contended at a news briefing Thursday that the F-16 sale “advances the central goal” of the communique because it promotes peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He noted that China’s recent purchase of the Russian Sukhoi 27 upgraded its air power.
But in delivering Beijing’s protest, Liu charged that the sale “completely violates” the 1982 communique, “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, seriously jeopardizes Sino-U.S. relations, and obstructs and undermines the great cause of China’s peaceful reunification.”
“The Chinese side is shocked and outraged,” Liu said.
“If the U.S. side should insist on having its own way,” he added, “the Chinese government and people will have no choice but to make a strong reaction, and the U.S. government will be held responsible for all the serious consequences arising therefrom.”
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, replying to a question about the protest, said that “we knew they would not be happy.” But he added, “We don’t have any indication of broader kinds of concern on their (China’s) part.”
The F-16 is made by General Dynamics of Ft. Worth, Tex. The sale to Taiwan may allow the company to retain about 5,800 workers it had planned to lay off, and President Bush has been accused of reversing his Taiwan policy for political reasons in an election year.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s defense minister, Chen Li-an, called the decision “a major breakthrough.”
“Should the Chinese Communists launch an attack against us, they will have to pay a higher price now,” Chen said at a news conference.
The planes that Bush authorized for sale to Taiwan are not the most modern version of the jet fighters but are an older model that will be equipped for defensive purposes.
“The Bush Administration’s wise decision will help to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwan’s prime minister, Hau Pei-tsun, said in a statement. “Our security and stability are the key to the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific region.”
Gen. Lin Wen-li, commander in chief of Taiwan’s air force, said Taipei has not yet decided to buy all 150 F-16s authorized by Bush because it would prefer to buy more sophisticated F-16C’s and F-16D’s.
Taiwan is also negotiating with France on the possible purchase of 120 Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Lin said that these talks will continue because Taiwan should not rely on just one type of plane for its defense.
In another development Thursday affecting Chinese-U.S. relations, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the detention of Shen Tong, a pro-democracy activist and former student leader who recently returned to China from the United States. Shen, 24, chairman of the U.S.-based Democracy for China Fund, was detained in Beijing early Tuesday, a few hours before he planned to speak at a news conference.
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